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Tim Wilbur

Change is constant

I have been in legal journalism for more than 10 years, but I am very excited to begin a new phase in my career at the helm of Canadian Lawyer. From my vantage point, there has never been a more exciting time to cover the legal profession. Many of the disruptive changes hitting the profession now were only just getting started when I was first covering the law.

In fact, 10 years ago, the other business I was in — media — looked a lot like the legal profession does now. Business models in the media had been upended by Craigslist and Google. Journalists were regularly bemoaning the “good old days” when traditional media was making a lot of money and career paths were clear. It seemed like it could be a temporary change and then things would settle down. No one in the media speaks like that anymore. Change is constant and expected, not spoken of as a new phenomenon.

In the law, things are a few years behind. No one denies that things are changing quickly anymore, but some still seem to think it is temporary. Things will settle down soon. But what if they don’t?

A better way to deal with change than bemoaning it is to dig deeper and find the constant. In the media, journalists have accepted that their business is not about newspapers or magazines or television broadcasts. It is not about the medium. It is about reaching audiences where they are and engaging them, whether through a web site, social media channel, podcast or YouTube, or even the printed page. The media is still selling content and eyeballs, just in new places. Journalists know they must strive to continually get better at reaching their audience, not retreat to their traditional formats.

In law, lawyers are there to synthesize information and provide strategic advice. But how that is done cannot stay the same. Lawyers need to harness changes in technology to analyze information in new ways, and better understand how humans make decisions to give better strategic advice.

As Jason Moyse and Aron Solomon argue in their column, robots won’t replace lawyers, but they should be allowed to help serve the public better. Much of the synthesis of information, they argue, can and should be done by robots. This doesn’t mean lawyers are replaced by robots, it means information is better presented to clients.

Strategic advice is also ripe for change. Lawyers strategize with their clients about how to present their case in front of a judge or other decision-maker. Jim Middlemiss, in his Back Page column, profiles a company that developed software to mine court judgments and break down litigators’ track records. What could be better material for strategic advice than that?

One other constant that both media and the law share is even more important than any of these things — ethics. Journalists are expected to provide balance and truth in their work. Lawyers, likewise, are expected to uphold the values of our legal system — justice, fairness, the rule of law.

I am excited to observe, write about and investigate how these things will change and yet hopefully stay the same.


In last month’s issue, it was reported in “Embracing a time for change” that Valerie Conrad was from the Yukon. She in fact lives in the N.W.T. Canadian Lawyer apologizes for the error.