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Canada should have alternative business structures, CBA taskforce says

Report forms 'a watershed moment' for the domestic legal market

15 August 2014

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

Canadian lawyers need to "be freed to work differently through new structures and in conjunction with other professionals (including alternative business structures)," a Canadian Bar Association (CBA) taskforce has said.

"Lawyers should be allowed to practise in business structures that allow ownership, management and investment by persons other than lawyers or other regulated professionals," the report by the CBA Legal Futures Initiative says.

"Multi-disciplinary practices and fee-sharing with non-lawyers should be allowed. All of these proposed changes must be carried out under the oversight of an enhanced regulatory framework," it adds.

Among the recommendations made is that 'compliance-based entity regulation' be adopted in Canada, similar to outcomes-focused regulation in the UK.

"The CBA's report constitutes a watershed moment for the legal marketplace in Canada, and possibly in North America. No document like this has ever been produced by a legal organization on this continent; the only reasonable comparison I can draw (albeit obviously not as groundbreaking) is Britain's Clementi Report, released nearly 10 years ago," says legal industry analyst Jordan Furlong in a blog post.

"It has the potential to help usher in a new era in legal services on this side of the Atlantic, and to utterly remake the Canadian legal market in any event."

New roles for lawyers

The report predicts that, in future, there will be a greater intersection of law and technology and that the following job descriptions will become increasingly common:

  • knowledge engineers - to build online legal advice systems and document drafting systems, and organise and represent legal knowledge within those systems;

  • legal process analysts - to develop the architecture within law firms or organisations by which complex legal work is disaggregated and sourced through multiple providers;

  • legal support system managers - to develop and deliver tools to clients to help them undertake their legal work, such as workflow systems, document management systems and intranets for in-house departments;

  • legal project managers - to formally bring the discipline of project management to the legal process of deals and disputes;

  • online dispute resolution - to resolve disputes as e-advocates, e-arbitrators, e-neutrals and e-mediators;

  • legal risk managers - to provide new tools, techniques and systems for identifying, quantifying, monitoring, hedging and reducing legal risk;

  • compliance officers - to advise on regulatory compliance within industries that are subject to complex regulation; and

  • legal management consultants - to offer preventative advice on strategy and operations to large legal departments.

The taskforce notes that "it is not suggested that all of these disciplines will thrive. Rather, we believe that these new roles are demonstrative of the added value that people with legal training can bring to a society in which legal information is readily and widely available, in digital format, or turned into an inexpensive commodity.

"Whether these disciplines do indeed flourish will depend on having a legal profession that is appropriately trained and sufficiently innovative to develop new and improved services for clients."

The CBA Legal Futures Initiative was created in 2012 to help the local legal profession to "remain relevant, viable, and confident in the face of change", according to Fred Headon, chair of the initiative and president of the CBA.

Its research findings and recommendations are published in Futures: Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada.




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