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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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.

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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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

ABS: What Horrors Within?

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.

 

Legal Services Regulation At The Crossroads: Justitia’s Legions

(2015) Edward Elgar Press, 308 pages.

Available now Edward Elgar Press in hardcover and as an affordable e-book .

A must read for everyone in North America who is making decisions on regulatory change to the legal services industry.” (Mitch Kowalski’s review in the Financial Post)

Through a comparative study of English-speaking jurisdictions, this book seeks to illuminate the policy choices involved in legal services regulation as well as the important consequences of those choices. Regulation can protect the interests of clients and the public, and reinforce the rule of law. On the other hand, legal services regulation can also undermine access to justice and suppress innovation, while failing to accomplish any of its lofty ambitions. The book seeks a path forward to increasing regulation’s benefits and reducing its burdens for clients and for the public. It proposes a client-centric approach to enhance access to justice and service quality, while revitalizing legal professionalism, self-regulation, and independence.

Access to Justice: Is Legal Services Regulation Blocking the Path?

(2013) International Journal of the Legal Profession, Vol. 21, No. 2, pp. 267-283 (Peer-reviewed).

Is legal services regulation exacerbating North America’s access to justice crisis? Does regulatory preservation of a unified legal profession, and insulation of that profession from non-lawyer influence, make it more difficult for Americans and Canadians to meet their legal needs? This article begins by showing that high prices and lack of innovation have placed expert legal services beyond the reach of many people in English-speaking North America. It then develops a theory of how these problems might be compounded by two distinctive features of legal services regulation in this region: unification of the legal profession, and insulation of law firms from non-lawyer investment and leadership. Comparisons are drawn with England & Wales and Australia, jurisdictions which have significantly liberalized their legal services regulatory regimes. The article concludes that, although regulatory liberalization is not a magic bullet for the accessibility of justice, there is strong evidence of a link between regulation and access. North American lawyer regulators need to understand and work to reduce the effects of their policies on the accessibility of justice.

Full text: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2303987