It’s not about you

I had the pleasure of interviewing Gillian Hadfield, who recently rejoined the faculty of law at the University of Toronto after teaching in California.

For our May 2019 issue, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gillian Hadfield, who recently rejoined the faculty of law at the University of Toronto after teaching in California. While Hadfield writes about highly complex topics in law and economics, such as artificial intelligence and contracts, the essence of her message is simple: It is not about you.

Hadfield has spent much of her career removing herself from the legal profession bubble and talking with those who are affected by, instead of those who designed, the legal system. She has interviewed a wide range of legal service users, from general counsel at the top Silicon Valley companies to the families of Sept. 11 victims. They all had a consistent message. The system is too complex and is not designed for the benefit of those it affects. In other words, it is designed by lawyers for lawyers.

While this message isn’t particularly enlightening for lawyers on its own, the way Hadfield came to that realization is. In her office in the beautiful new wing of U of T’s law school, she informed me that she had gone into bankruptcy after a prolonged cross-border custody battle. While she didn’t end up writing about her experiences directly, it has driven her to find out why the legal system is so complicated and if there is a better way.

The answer, it would seem, is simple. Lawyers spend too little time and effort finding out how the complexity they have built is affecting those it is designed to help. And it is a lesson that the best lawyers out there know to their core.

In this issue, we also profile the top personal injury boutiques and arbitration chambers. Allan Stitt, president and CEO of ADR Chambers, one of the winners, had a similar message. He told us that the “vast majority” of disputes are not fit for the courts or traditional ADR. He said it is up to professionals like him to be creative and develop faster, less expensive processes — even at the expense of due process. “Many of my colleagues would say that that’s heresy,” he said. “The business people that I’ve talked to about it want to stand up and cheer.”

Stitt, like all good lawyers, has empathy and a deep understanding of how the complexity affects those who really matter; i.e., his clients. The same could be said for good lawyers in all areas, be it personal injury, family or tax.

Hadfield had to go through a highly traumatic experience to internalize that idea. Hopefully, she can instill that lesson in her students in a less painful way because whatever legal regime these future lawyers end up helping to design, we will all benefit if they keep the end user and not just their peers at the top of their mind.

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