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Nov Advocate 2017

882 THE ADVOCATE VOL. 75 PART 6 NOVEMBER 2017 challenges right now, some of which—the technological ones—may actually raise genuinely novel concerns. Uneven and insufficient access to justice remains a crisis in this province and across the country, certainly for the poorest but also for middle class and even professional individuals facing contentious civil or family matters. Courts are often overwhelmed with self-represented litigants. Yet lawyers face challenges making a decent living while representing these clients at rates that they can afford to pay. Initiatives like B.C.’s online Civil Resolution Tribunal, which now covers strata disputes of any amount and small claims disputes under $5,000, may offer a scalable model for addressing access to justice challenges, especially in rural areas where live legal help is scarce. At the same time, the model represents a very different approach, which among other things severs what might otherwise be a one-to-one relationship between lawyer and client on such matters. The same is true of a range of new “lawtech” products now in their early stages that are being developed by technology startups and others in Canada and abroad. Several of these alternative models raise difficult questions of professional ethics. In larger-scale corporate and business law, as well, firms are facing increasing pressure from growing in-house corporate legal departments to demonstrate greater transparency and value. The billable hour model increasingly is having to make room for fixed fees, which some firms struggle to price appropriately. Leaving to one side the potential benefits that flow from partnership structures, in a business sense those structures limit even the largest firms in their ability to invest in research and development, or to access capital markets. In the future—if not already—they may struggle to compete with corporate entities, including some accounting firms and management consultants, who have an eye on lawyers’ books of business. As Canadian law societies and the Canadian Bar Association know, these pressures provoke some considerable soul-searching and reflection among regulators and industry associations as well. Junior lawyers in particular are facing an uncertain world as outsourcing, insourcing (within Canada but to cheaper centres with individuals on non-partner-track careers) or automation hollow out the tasks that once would have occupied, paid for and trained them. When it comes to routinized or commodity business—in business law, in wills and estates, in real estate or further afield—we may well ask, especially in light of access to justice challenges and client pressure, whether the existing legal business model is likely to persist. Machine learning (also known as artificial intelligence) is still some years away from truly disrupting lawyers’ practices, but its potential is starting to emerge. Some Canadian-led businesses are in fact


Nov Advocate 2017
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