Generalism and Access to Justice: Jack of All Trades, Master of None?

Slaw.ca Legal Ethics Column, October 6 2017.

http://www.slaw.ca/2017/10/06/generalism-and-access-to-justice-jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none/

The rise of specialization is among the biggest changes in the practice of law over the past hundred years. Most lawyers and paralegals are increasingly able to focus on a smaller number of legal niches. That is good news, for practitioners and also for clients. However, I will suggest here that generalist legal professionalism has an enduring role in fostering access to justice.

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Accessibility, Quality, and Profitability for Personal Plight Law Firms: Hitting the Sweet Spot

Canadian Bar Association, 2017. Available free online at www.cba.org/PersonalPlight

Personal plight legal practice includes all legal work for individual clients whose needs arise from disputes. This is the site of our worst access to justice problems. The goal of this project is to identify sustainable innovations that can make the services of personal plight law firms more accessible to all Canadians.

Accessibility is vitally important, but it is not the only thing that matters in personal plight legal practice. Thus, this book seeks out innovations that not only improve accessibility, but also preserve or enhance service quality as well as law firms’ profitability. These “sweet spot” opportunities emerged from interviews with 32 personal plight legal practitioners across the country, and from an extensive review of the literature.

The first chapter of this book describes personal plight legal needs, clients, and law firms, and introduces the “sweet spot” frame of reference. The next chapters focus on practical opportunities for personal plight legal practice related to Price Certainty (Chapter 2); Deferred Payment (Chapter 3); Diversifying Services (Chapter 4); Vertical Division of Labour (Chapter 5); and Horizontal Division of Labour (Chapters 6 and 7). The concluding chapter (Chapter 8) compares the prospects for large personal plight law firms, and small ones, to pursue these innovations. Throughout, the book offers practical recommendations for personal plight law firms, and also for regulators and professional groups interested in helping those firms create sustainable access to justice. These recommendations are collected in the Appendix.

Legal Services Regulation in Canada: Plus ça change?

In Andy Boon, ed., International Perspectives on the Regulation of Lawyers and Legal Services, (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2017).

In common law Northern Europe and in Australasia, a wave of reform has been transforming legal services regulation since roughly 1980. Old structures and approaches, based on the principles of professionalism and lawyer independence, are being replaced in these jurisdictions by new ones that prioritize competition and consumer interests. In the United States this has conspicuously not happened, leaving intact a regulatory approach whose broad outlines have changed little in the past 100 years.

Thus, I have argued that the legal services regulatory regimes of the common law world today are bifurcated into (i) a competitive-consumerist paradigm apparent in the UK, in Australia, and in their smaller neighbours, and (ii) a professionalist-independent mode which survives in the United States and a few other places.

Where does Canada fit into this picture? With a view to locating the author’s home and native land on the spectrum between the competitive-consumerist and professionalist-independent traditions, this Chapter reviews key characteristics and important recent developments in Canadian legal services regulation. After providing an overview of the Canadian legal profession, the Chapter proceeds in four sections: (i) Governance and the Role of the State; (ii) Professional Organization and Occupational Unity; (iii) Firm Insulation and Alternative Business Structures, and (iv) Regulatory Focus. I conclude that, in Canada’s common law provinces, legal services regulation remains firmly in the professionalist-independent tradition.

Full text online, SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2833336.

A Third Revolution in Family Dispute Resolution: Accessible Legal Professionalism

(2017) Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice, Vol. 34, No. 1. (Peer-reviewed).

Innovation in family law firms can tangibly improve access to justice in Canada. This article develops that claim by drawing on empirical data and scholarship about Canadian family law. Part 1 explains how and why legal needs arising from the dissolution of intimate relationships are so difficult for the parties to meet.  This Part draws on civil legal needs surveys, surveys with lawyers, and data from interviews with litigants. The focus shifts to family law firms (including sole practitioners) in Part 2, using new empirical data about the Canadian lawyers who do this work. Three promising opportunities to innovate for accessibility in family law practice are identified: (i) innovative fee structure; (ii) innovative service variety; and (iii) innovative division of labour. A “third revolution” in Canadian family law is proposed in Part 3.  Our family law doctrine was revolutionized beginning in the 1960s, and family law alternative dispute resolution was similarly transfigured beginning in the 1980s. It is now time to foment a third revolution, in family law practice accessibility, to bring the benefits of family justice to all Canadians who need them.

Full text online: https://ojs.uwindsor.ca/index.php/WYAJ/article/view/5009

 

Regulating Contingency Fees: A Consumer Welfare Perspective

Invited contribution to Trevor Farrow & Les Jacobs eds., The Cost and Value of Justice (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, forthcoming 2020).

How can we preserve and extend what’s good about contingency fees, while minimizing the bad and the ugly? In order to identify the regulatory tools best suited to this challenging task, this Chapter proposes a consumer welfare analysis.

The consumers of contingency fee legal services are the individual clients, and the members of classes, represented by law firms working on this basis. These consumers, like other consumers, have interests in:

(i) quality,

(ii) price,

(iii) fairness, and

(iv) choice.

Part 2 of this Chapter will analyze these four sets of consumer interests, all of which are affected by the regulation of contingent fees. Part 3 scrutinizes various regulatory approaches to contingency fees against the consumer welfare criterion. I argue that heavy-handed interventions, such as fee caps and retrospective price review, can do as much harm as good for consumers. “Light touch” alternatives such as disclosure and standardized contracts, and fostering the “invisible hand” of the market, are preferable approaches for a regulators interested in maximizing consumer welfare.

Early draft online: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2959477.

Personal Plight: Mending the Market

Slaw.ca Legal Ethics Column, Aug. 11 2017.

http://www.slaw.ca/2017/08/11/personal-plight-mending-the-market/

“Personal plight” legal services are those provided to individual clients whose legal needs arise from disputes. Personal plight areas such as family law, refugee law, and human rights are the site of Canada’s worst access to justice problems.

The market for personal plight legal services functions poorly, as Malcolm Mercer and Amy Salyzyn have shown in this space. A key problem, I suggest here, is that it is too difficult for consumers to shop intelligently. This undermines healthy competition and legal professionalism, in addition to access to justice. Regulators can and should mend the market for personal legal services.

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Attorney on Amazon? Online Marketplaces for Legal Services

Law and Technology at Windsor Law Blog, 2017.

Online: http://www.lteclab.com/blog-post/attorneys-on-amazon-online-marketplaces-for-legal-services/.

For an individual with a legal need, shopping intelligently for a law firm can be a frustrating experience. It is difficult to get any objective information about price or quality, and comparison-shopping is arduous. Are online marketplaces, which play an increasingly central role in the consumer economy, part of the solution to this access to justice problem?

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Long Live the Law Practice Program

I am struggling to understand the justification for the recent committee recommendation to end the Law Practice Program. The LPP is the Law Society’s alternative licensing program predominantly used by candidates unable to find articling positions.

The committee‘s central rationale seems to be that the LPP is “perceived as second tier.” They acknowledge that (i) “there is no evidence to suggest that the LPP is in fact second-tier” and (ii) the LPP is “of very high quality and may, in fact, excel over articling in a number of areas” in terms of preparing candidates for practice (para 59).

A regulator ending the LPP because it’s perceived as second tier to articling is like a regulator banning Chevrolets because they are perceived as second tier to Cadillacs. A regulator which does so must, at very least, have a realistic plan to ensure that everyone will be able to drive a Cadillac/get an articling position.  I can’t find any such plan in this Report. Continue reading

Male, Pale, and Stale? Diversity in Lawyers’ Regulatory Leadership

(2016) Canadian Journal of Law and Society, Vol. 31, Issue 3, p. 405.  (Peer-reviewed). Online: Cambridge University Press.

When lawyers elect the leaders of their self-regulatory organizations, what sort of people do they vote for?  How does electoral system design affect the ability of law societies and bar associations to understand and regulate a diverse legal profession? This article quantitatively assesses the demographic and professional diversity of leadership in the Law Society of Upper Canada.  After many years of underrepresentation, in 2015 non-white members and women were elected in numbers proportionate to their shares of Ontario lawyers. Regression analysis suggests that being non-white was not a disadvantage in the 2015 election, and being female actually conferred an advantage in attracting lawyers’ votes. The diverse employment contexts of the province’s lawyers were also represented in the elected group.  However early career lawyers were completely unrepresented.  This is largely a consequence of electoral system design choices, and can be remedied through the implementation of career stage constituencies.

Can be found online at: https://doi.org/10.1017/cls.2016.33

This research was also the subject of an article in the Law Times newspaper: https://www.lawtimesnews.com/news/general/prof-calls-for-reforms-to-boost-youth-presence-at-convocation/261812

Our Nostradamus

Review of Richard Susskind, Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013) and Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind, The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts (New York: Oxford, 2015).

Windsor Review of Legal and Social Issues, Volume 37, p. 126-131.

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Access to Justice: After the Machines Take Over

Slaw.ca (January 27, 2016)

Full text: http://www.slaw.ca/2016/01/27/access-to-justice-after-the-machines-take-over-2/. Reprinted in Obiter Dicta (Osgoode Hall Law School), February 24 2016. Online: http://obiter-dicta.ca/2016/02/24/access-to-justice-after-the-machines-take-over/.

“The traditional professions will be dismantled, leaving most (but not all) professionals to be replaced by less expert people and high-performing systems.” This is the central message of The Future of Professionsa new book from Richard and Daniel Susskind. Machines, they argue, will take over much professional work. Even when the machines cannot do so alone, the Susskinds expect that they will allow laypeople, paraprofessionals, and the clients themselves do the necessary work.

One way or the other, highly-trained and expensive human professionals will be mostly cut out of the value chain. The future of the professions, in this view, doesn’t seem like much of a future at all. Richard Susskind’s previous books make it very clear that lawyers are included in this troubling prediction.

This prophecy can be disputed, or resisted on moral grounds. Let’s assume, however, that machines will in fact make steady incursions into lawyer work. What does this mean for access to justice in the future?

The Susskinds offer one reason for A2J optimism: machines will themselves soon provide mass, affordable access to justice. I believe there is another good news story for access to justice: by taking over much of lawyers’ current work, machines may allow the Bar to refocus on meeting other sorts of unmet legal needs, which demand the human touch. Continue reading

Three Routes to Justice for All

Lawyers Weekly, October 30, 2015.

Full text: https://www.thelawyersdaily.ca/articles/2204/the-three-routes-to-justice-for-all

The LSUC needs to expand the scope of paralegals, online information and ABS.

A statutory mandate was given to the Law Society of Upper Canada almost ten years ago: “Act so as to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario.” How effectively has it been carried out?

Undeniably, access to justice is now taken seriously at Osgoode Hall. Recent initiatives such as the treasurer’s action group on access to justice are encouraging to those who want all Ontarians to enjoy the law’s benefits.

While great strides have been made, a great distance remains to be travelled. Three policy areas — paralegal practice, online information, and alternative business structures — illustrate both how far the law society has come and how far it must still go.
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