(2020) Forthcoming, Dalhousie Law Journal. 28 pages.
Slaw.ca Legal Ethics Column, January 31, 2019.
Suppose you have practiced law for many years in the same community. You are shown a list of other lawyers who do the same sort of work as you, in the same area. You probably have an opinion about most of the names on the list. Favourable or unfavourable impressions will have accumulated from your interactions with them on files, your observations of their work, and other colleagues’ comments to you about them.
Of course, they also have opinions about you. Your collegial reputation is the sum of the opinions about you held by others in your community of practice.
Collegial reputations are not necessarily fair or well- deserved. They may reflect prejudice or irrelevant factors, rather than the real qualities of someone’s work. Nevertheless, within professions like law, colleagues are relatively well placed to evaluate the many aspects of value that are invisible to clients. Continue reading
(2019) University of British Columbia Law Review, Vol. 52, No. 3.
This article proposes a theoretical foundation for measuring legal service value. It aims to support efforts to compare the value of offerings from different law firms, as well as alternative legal service providers.
The value of any legal service depends on (i) its effectiveness, (ii) its affordability, (iii) the experience it creates for its clients, and (iv) third party effects (the impact the service-provider has on people other than the client).
These four elements of value can be quantified through various metrics applied to firms or entities that provide a given service. Output metrics evaluate either the actual real-world impact of a legal service, or the written and oral work products of the firm. Internal metrics check for processes or structures within a firm that demonstrably support high value outputs. Input metrics focus on the attributes and credentials of the individuals who provide the service.
This article concludes that measuring legal service value is challenging, and may be dangerous if done poorly. Nevertheless, the rewards justify the challenge. Higher quality legal professionalism, more effective and less burdensome regulation, and consumer empowerment are among the payoffs if we can find better ways to measure legal service value.
Full text: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3144771
International Journal of the Legal Profession, Vol. 25.
“Personal plight” is the sector of the legal services industry in which the clients are individuals, and the legal needs arise from disputes. This article proposes that competition among personal plight law firms is suppressed by three demand-side phenomena. First, consumers confront high search costs. Identifying competing law firms willing and able to provide the needed services often requires significant expenditure of temporal and psychological resources. Second, comparable price and quality information about firms is scarce for consumers. Both of these factors impede comparison shopping and reduce competitive pressure on firms. A third competition-suppressing factor is observed in tort legal service markets, where offerings are typically priced on a contingency basis. Contingency fees have relatively low salience to consumers, and this reduces consumers’ willingness to negotiate and comparison-shop on the basis of price. This analysis is supported by the author’s empirical research with Ontario personal plight lawyers as well as the existing literature. The article concludes by suggesting possible consequences of this analysis for regulatory policy.
Slaw.ca Legal Ethics Column, Tuesday June 1, 2018.
What makes a great law firm? How can one quantify just how great a firm is, and compare it to its competitors? Last time in this space I suggested that legal service value has four elements (full paper here):
- To the extent that a firm gets good legal results for its clients, it has effectiveness value.
- To the extent that the firm’s fees are low and easy to pay, it has affordability value.
- The more the firm’s practices minimize clients’ time and stress costs, the more client experience value it has.
- Finally, if the firm’s work has many benefits and few costs for people other than its clients, it has high third party value.
In principle, a firm’s performance on these four elements of value can be quantified. If we could actually create accurate charts like these for legal services providers, we would have more empowered consumers, better self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses within law firms, and more evidence-based regulation. This project can also move us toward a more meritocratic legal profession, in which individual success is less dependent on racial and socioeconomic privilege.
An accurate quantification of value will require multiple metrics, and the array of metrics will depend on the legal niche in question. This column outlines three basic types of metric for quantifying legal service value: output metrics, internal metrics, and input metrics. Output metrics measure what comes out of the legal service provider. Internal metrics examine what happens inside the firm. Finally, input metrics analyze the people who walk in (or log in) to the firm each morning. Continue reading
Slaw.ca Legal Ethics Column, Tuesday April 5, 2018.
If you work at a law firm, how good is that firm? If you’re a client or potential client, how good are the different legal services providers that you might choose to patronize?
It’s too difficult, at present, to answer these questions in an objective and reliable way. This is most obviously true for individual people with legal needs. They generally confront a mysterious landscape populated with apparently indistinguishable law firms, as well as proliferating alternative sources of legal services.
However, even experienced corporate clients, and lawyers themselves, lack solid information about the respective merits of different legal service providers. To evaluate quality, they must often rely on opaque, methodologically suspect rankings or else anecdotal impressions of firms.
We need better ways to quantify and compare the value propositions offered by different providers of legal services. This column proposes a definition of legal service value, and next time in this space I’ll propose and categorize metrics for quantifying it. A detailed paper on these topics is available here. Continue reading
Slaw.ca Legal Ethics Column, Dec. 12 2017
Tyrell Moodie, accused of drug offences and facing several years in prison, was denied a Legal Aid Ontario certificate because his income of $16,211 per year exceeded the cut-off threshold. Legal aid services for refugees in B.C. and Ontario were threatened with drastic cuts in 2017. Self-represented litigants are now the majority in many family courts, mostly because people cannot afford the legal assistance that they would love to have, and legal aid won’t pay for it.
Every media story about a legal aid shortfall includes a quote from a lawyer, pointing the finger at the government for inadequate funding. However, every time the legal profession points its finger at the state, three fingers are pointing back at the legal profession. As trustees and beneficiaries of the legal system, lawyers should make a more tangible contribution to ensuring its accessibility.
I suggest that our law societies should collect mandatory “access to justice levies” from all licensees, and use the money to fund access to justice for people of modest means. These levies should be progressive (calculated based on the income of each licensee). The clinics and programs receiving the funds should be selected by the licensees themselves, through participatory democracy processes. Continue reading
Canadian Lawyer, November 20, 2017.
Most individuals looking for legal help in a dispute would love to scrap pre-paid, uncapped time-based billing, and lawyers should be open to that.
Imagine a list of clients’ top 10 pet peeves about law firms. Pre-paid, uncapped time-based billing would rank high. Why do so many firms in niches such as family law, estate litigation and employment law stick with this much-unloved system? How can these firms realistically and profitably move past it? Continue reading
Slaw.ca Legal Ethics Column, October 6 2017.
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.
(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
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:
(iii) fairness, and
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.
Slaw.ca Legal Ethics Column, Aug. 11 2017.
“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.
Law and Technology at Windsor Law Blog, 2017.
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?
Lawyers Weekly, October 30, 2015.
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.
Canadian Bar Association National Magazine, December 4, 2014.
“Professor, I was wondering if you could tell us anything about the Chamber of Secrets,” said Hermione in a clear voice… “What exactly do you mean by the ‘horror within’ the Chamber?”
“That is believed to be some sort of monster…” said Professor Binns in his dry, reedy voice.
-J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
An alternative business structure (ABS) is a law firm that includes non-lawyers as investors, managers, or partners. Such arrangements are effectively forbidden throughout Canada today. However prominent voices, such as the CBA Legal Futures Initiative, are now calling for regulators to roll back these rules and welcome ABS firms to our legal landscape.
A future with ABS is a chamber of secrets, rumoured to contain both glittering treasures and savage monsters. The treasures may include enhanced access to justice for clients,and new innovation and flexibility for legal professionals. The value of these treasures cannot be known unless and until we roll back the regulation currently blocking the entrance to the chamber.
However many are reluctant to do so, because two monsters are also said to reside in the chamber. One of these beasts, it is said, eats legal ethics by corrupting lawyers. The other allegedly eats lawyers themselves, by stealing their clients.
While the treasures in the chamber are uncertain, the two monsters are entirely figmentary. Our regulators therefore have nothing to lose–and possibly a great deal to gain—from opening the door to alternative business structures
Full text here.