The Seven Wonders

In 2004, the Canadian Bar Association Futures Committee posted an article on its web site entitled “Seven Wonders of the World . . . The Future for Lawyers.” The Futures Committee was formed in 2003 to examine the challenges facing lawyers and the legal profession and to make recommendations about what the CBA would have to offer to the legal community in 2015 to remain “relevant” and “vibrant.”

The Committee published a report in 2005, “Crystal Clear,” which set out a number of recommendations for the CBA to remain relevant to its members.  In 2006, the CBA published another report, “Crystal Clear: Strategic Directions for the CBA,” which expanded on a number of the recommendations in the 2005 report. Both reports were based on extensive research and discussions with CBA members.

The “Seven Wonders” piece speculates on what the practice of law will be like in 2014. The speculations include:

1.    Wonder: Will lawyers continue to be higher earners (No. 8 in the aggregate) or will lawyers become increasingly irrelevant as upholders of the rule of law and defenders of institutions of Parliament and the courts and slide down the income ladder?

2.    Wonder: Will the decline of prominence of the profession (income and stature) result in the men “leaving the building,” leaving the profession as a female work ghetto? Or will the increased number of women lawyers create a more desirable work environment?

3.    Wonder: Will the combination of a desire for a balanced life and the grueling treadmill of the large law firms with their ruthless bottom lines result in more lawyers working as independents? Or will law firms be corporations with all lawyers as shareholders participating in profit sharing, committing to the long-term health and viability of the firm?

4.    Wonder: Will lawyers work in virtual practices working electronically, searching web databases, communicating with clients by e-mail and making filings online, relying on robust web sites and using voice recognition dictation, and lose the face-to-face interaction with clients? Or will clients continue to seek out lawyers for one-on-one advice with whom they can meet in person and talk frankly?

5.    Wonder: Will most disputes be settled outside the judicial system through arbitration, mediation, and out-of-court processes, leaving empty courtrooms? Or will courtrooms “be rejuvenated as more people turn to a centuries’ old, established structure . . . that offer a haven of fairness?”

6.    Wonder: Will non-lawyers with legal experience, paralegals, and the Internet take over more and more of the functions currently performed by lawyers? Or will people recognize the value of having a trained lawyer to service their legal needs?

7.    Wonder: Will lawyers continue to be viewed as “driven by profit, self-interest, not client interest, and that their tactics border on the unethical or even illegal” and have fallen from grace and no longer be respected community members? Or will lawyers re-emerge as “valued upholders of society’s moral code . . . and be trusted and needed experts?”

Some of these predictions have come to pass, in part at least, although change does not seem to be occurring at the pace speculated on by the CBA back in 2004. However, we are definitely trending in the directions predicted by the CBA and have not been able to turn some of the more negative trends to our advantage.

The CBA might consider adding the following “wonders” to its Seven Wonders list:

8. Will lawyers continue in the practice of law long past previous retirement dates (into their 60s and 70s) resulting in increased competition for clients?

9. Will women, who postponed their legal careers to have and raise children, re-enter the legal profession in their 40s and 50s creating even more competition in the legal marketplace?

10. Will the decline of the traditional law firm structure/model undermine the training of junior lawyers and therefore the competency of lawyers generally?

11. Will the creation of new law schools, the easing of restrictions on admitting students from non-Canadian law schools to provincial bars, and the maintenance of larger class sizes for existing Canadian law schools result in a glut of lawyers in the Canadian market and a devaluation of our profession overall?

The Futures Committee has raised a number of sobering issues for the profession but arguably there is still time for adaption and change (in a good way). Hopefully we can give our collective head a shake and take reasonable steps to preserve our economic position in the Canadian marketplace and the principled role in Canadian society.

Barbara Hendrickson is the founder and CEO of BAX Securities Law and is the chairwoman of the business law section of the Canadian Bar Association. Her comments are her own and do not represent those of the CBA.

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