The Great Legal Transformation

Abandon all hope ye who enter here

Image by kevindooley via Flickr

Canada’s legal futurist, Jordan Furlong at, contends that the legal profession in Canada is “At the crossroads of regulation“. Furlong argues that “[w]hat we need in the legal marketplace is not deregulation, but disinterested regulation.”

Furlong’s thesis  is straightforward: it is premised on a laissez-faire economics model focusing on the “legal marketplace” where anyone has a “skin in the game’ as long as they ‘play by the rules’. For Furlong, all we need is a ” regulatory structure in which we can have the highest possible confidence that all vendors are equally scrutinized and all purchasers are equally protected.”

This will then offset the disruptive impact of new technologies which infiltrate and transform the provision of legal services to the public, lessening tension among traditional models of professional regulation, where law societies and bar associations resist attacks on the historical monopoly granted to lawyers in providing legal services, through strict licensure and monopolistic regulation.

Well, I think that’s his thesis, but I could be wrong.

A similar argument is made by fellow legal futurist, Richard Susskind, who predicts that the legal market will go through three phases in the next five years, approaching an “end game“:

But the academic said the endgame will not be about labour arbitrage: “I predict that the third phase, from 2016 onwards, will involve great uptake of information technology across the profession, such as automated production of documents and intelligent e-discovery systems – these are applications that will be staggeringly less costly than even the lowest-paid lawyers.”

Of course, neither Furlong nor Susskind will utter the “E” word; you know, Ethics upon which professional regulation stands apart from the rest.

The subtext is that lawyers will have to adapt or evolve as technology frees up competition allowing consumers (i.e. clients) to flock to cheaper (i.e. less expensive) law firms that embrace legal outsourcing, automated document production and state-of-the-art e-discovery systems. The fact that lawyers are subject to a code of professional rules of conduct and ethical canons is trifling to the transformative and leveling nature of legal technology and market-driven forces.

So what are the current and future unemployed or underemployed lawyers to do? Do they, like Dante, pass through the gate of Hell, and utter the inscription:

“”Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate“, or “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”?

Of course not. If, as Karl Polanyi in The Great Transformation argued, “laissez-faire was planned”, then a ‘self-regulating’ legal market necessitates the separation of society into economic and technological realms. The traditional practice of law is archaic, arcane and architectonic.

I say: Let’s deregulate the legal profession. 

Why not?

“Access to justice” is really about “getting a cheap lawyer”, isn’t it?

Clients are just customers, right?

Fiduciary is just an antiquated legal concept , correct?

There will be casualties in the Great Legal Transformation. While deregulation will open the floodgates to just about anyone, the malpractice claims will likely make lawyers quite busy, at least for a time. Eventually, the insurance industry will cry foul and refuse to underwrite non-lawyer policies or will demand exorbitant premiums. Law students will stage a revolt in having to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a legal education that focuses less on critical thinking and legal reasoning and more on technological proficiency.

Yet, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Consider the alternative:

Lawyer Strips to Survive, Maintains Positive Attitude

Meet “Carla,” who earned her law degree a decade ago and actually used it, unlike some people we know. In 2009 she was laid off and couldn’t find another law job, because they’ve all been outsourced or backsourced or stolen by the Olds. So she found what her law school’s Office of Career Services might call “an alternative career.”

“I went around to see if could get a job as cocktail waitress, but there was not a single retail or waitress job. No one was hiring, except for the topless places,” she said. “It was an act of desperation.”

She started out serving drinks as a waitress, but moved quickly to dancing “because that’s where the money is, and that’s what I needed.”

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