From the President - At What Price Speed?
Reflection missing in our fast-paced society
by Mayland McKimm
While we all embrace the deluge of new technology and computer-generated information, I am troubled that we may not now take enough time to pause and reflect on what we do and why we do it. What our clients really demand from us is wisdom and judgement. No software program or hardware application will ever replace those qualities.
As an example, look at today’s electronic databases which provide hundreds of thousands of cases, all accessible through a carefully crafted word search. What they do not provide are the reflections and analysis which are critical to an understanding of the law. Computer terminals will never be a substitute for a real library of texts, journals and reports, and as a profession we need to resist the movement to computers as substitute for a library.
Electronic communications have increased the ease of communications between lawyers and between lawyers and their clients. Clients have developed expectations that their e-mail requests and inquiries will be answered literally at the speed of light. While this may be possible on occasion, immediate responses will necessarily not be the most considered responses. How many of us have dashed off a hasty response to an e-mail only to wish that we had taken some more time to reflect on the response? The ability to respond in an instant has created an expectation that we will respond in an instant.
As a profession we have an obligation to provide judgement and wisdom to our clients if we are to continue to provide value. As technology advances and the speed of business increases we will continue to be faced with a world of new challenges. While we will no doubt continue to embrace these new challenges we will need to always be mindful to protect our core values.
I agree with President Warner of the Law Society that as a profession we have to position ourselves to provide service better, faster and cheaper. On the other hand we must never look at ourselves as men and women who deliver a commodity. Legal advice can only be delivered at the speed of careful reflection and at a cost of proper consideration. Our challenge is not really to continue to increase the speed with which we produce our work product, but to carefully manage our clients’ expectations around technology and the delivery of legal services.
A wait of twelve months for a trial may well seem unimaginable inefficiency for a businessperson who can order a warehouse full of supplies in a nanosecond. Parties waiting for the development of a complex shareholder’s agreement or difficult separation agreement may have difficulty understanding why that process may take weeks or months when a hundred pages of text can be e-mailed in an instant. Clients need to understand that lawsuits and quality agreements require time for lawyers to exchange ideas and solutions and time for parties, particularly in a contested matter, to disengage their hearts and engage their minds.
In the final analysis it really all just means professionalism. To survive in the new global economy we need to maintain our commitment to this noble profession and its core values. This is where the Canadian Bar Association is your essential ally.
As this is my last column as president, let me take this opportunity to thank you for the opportunity that you have given me to serve this great and proud profession. It has been my honour to fulfill the role of president, but anything that I have done on your behalf would not have been possible without the incredible assistance of the staff at the Branch office and my colleagues on the executive. We can and should all be proud of the extraordinary work they do on our behalf.
This article was published in the August 2000 issue of BarTalk. © 2000 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.