The CBA Legal Futures Initiative Proposes Bold Retooling of Canadian Legal Profession

  • August 14, 2014

St. John's — The Canadian Bar Association’s (CBA) Legal Futures Initiative is proposing a bold rethink of the way law is practised, taught and regulated in Canada.

This includes allowing lawyers to practise in partnership with people outside the profession, providing more flexibility in the way the profession is regulated, finding ways to increase diversity, and offering more innovation in the way law is taught.

Futures: Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada is the fruit of two years of research and study. Presented at the 2014 CBA Legal Conference in St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador, it contains 22 recommendations, some of which represent fundamental change for the legal profession.

CBA President Fred Headon, who chaired the initiative, says innovation is the key.

“Client expectations are changing quickly and if lawyers don’t find better ways to meet those expectations, clients will go elsewhere to have their legal needs met. Statistics show that they are already - so, something needs to change,” says Headon.

“Clients expect, quite reasonably, that we do business like other professionals. They want cost-effective services delivered by properly trained professionals in a way that makes sense to them, that uses technology they are familiar with and which solve their problems, not just the legal aspect of their problems.”

The report’s recommendations include:

  • Allowing lawyers to practise in business structures that permit fee-sharing, multi-disciplinary practice, and ownership, management, and investment by people other than lawyers or other regulated legal professionals;
  • Permitting non-lawyer investment in legal practices on a carefully regulated basis;
  • Empowering legal education providers, including law schools, to innovate so that students can have a choice in the way they receive legal education; and
  • Letting education providers create parallel programs in areas such as legal technology to educate and train new streams of legal service providers.

The recommendations build on recent moves in Australia, and England and Wales. Over the last 15 years, these countries have let go of 19th-Century restrictions on practice and that has led to experimenting with new legal service delivery models.

“Regulatory issues are an important piece of the puzzle,” notes Fred Headon. “While innovation will take investment and expertise, regulatory constraints limit our ability to access investment in technology and to adopt new processes that make our services more efficient.”

“Lawyers should be able to package the work that they do differently. It’s time to start thinking about which services can only be provided by lawyers, and which can be done more efficiently, less expensively, and in ways that resonate with clients. This could be done by other professionals under the supervision of lawyers. In short, we can liberalize ownership yet regulate the service,” Headon continued.

Lawyers, as most people, can be resistant to change, he notes. “But not being open to changes the profession needs if it is to remain relevant means those lawyers risk becoming obsolete, or get left behind when their more flexible, innovative colleagues prove there’s a better way to do things. We all need to find ways to better connect with clients to fulfill our role as a profession, which also gives rise to opportunities to grow and better serve our clients”.

While the recommendations still have to be approved by the CBA Council, Fred Headon is recommending immediate action on several fronts. These include creating continuing legal education initiatives that help position lawyers to face new realities; developing tools for innovation; and sourcing funding for innovation - through incubators, scholarships and awards.

“Going out on a limb professionally requires more than just an entrepreneurial spirit, it takes a support network too - and the CBA, as the voice of the legal profession in Canada, should be one of the threads in the net,” he said.

The full report Futures: Transforming the delivery of legal services in Canada is available online. The 2014 CBA Legal Conference is being held in St. John’s August 14-17 and is open to accredited media. Please contact Hannah Bernstein at for accreditation.

The CBA is dedicated to supporting the rule of law, improvements in the law, and the administration of justice. Some 37,500 lawyers, law teachers, and law students from across Canada are members.