The way legal services are delivered in Canada is changing. Increased competition and a demand for lower prices has pressured law firms to slow hiring and deliver their services more efficiently. After finishing my first year at Queen’s Law I started thinking about how law students can help firms meet the demand. It starts with an open-eyes look at where our industry is moving.
The reality is that corporate in-house clients are demanding routine process work be done for less, putting pressure on law firms to deliver their services faster with less overhead. 2012 also marked the first year that non-lawyers are allowed to own law firms in the UK, dramatically expanding the capital available for those firms’ investment and growth.
Here at home, lawyer-only firm ownership still reigns in Canada, but mergers with international players push our largest firms into ever-greater levels of competition. Lawyers-turned-entrepreneurs in Canada are in turn growing their shares in the consumer market by launching online legal services.
New entrants to the market still haven’t quenched the demand for lower legal costs. Canadians face serious access to justice issues, and even middle-class litigants find themselves increasingly forced to represent themselves in court.
How are law students responding to these challenges? Traditional not-for-profit work in legal clinics like Queen’s Legal Aid and Pro-Bono Students Canada is popular while in law school, but how many students continue their pro-bono efforts post graduation? How does this solve the problem for clients who aren’t poor but still can’t afford legal advice?
I believe the change starts with how legal services are delivered. I believe it starts by getting students thinking about innovative ways to bring the law to Canadians.
Law-students for Technology and Innovation (LFTI) is a student-run organization Nikolas Sopow and I created this year at Queen’s Law. We’re passionate about finding better ways to deliver legal services. We’re law students, but we’re not afraid of the changes coming to the Canadian legal scene. Within three weeks we recruited four more executives to our team, and we’re still growing. By 2015 we plan to have LFTI clubs at every law school in Canada.
Our projects this year are as diverse as our leadership team. We’re hosting a speakers’ panel in Winter 2013 titled Technology on the Legal Frontier: Current and Future Ways to Practice Law. We’re fundraising for computer literacy skills in Kingston by hosting a LAN party for video-game enthusiasts. We’re blogging on the latest legal tech to hit app store shelves. And we’re letting everyone know how the delivery of legal services is changing, so our classmates are prepared when they graduate.
If you’re a law student, consider starting a group like LFTI for your class. Being prepared for the changing legal environment in Canada is about more than making a living as a lawyer. It’s about making legal counsel affordable, providing greater access to justice, and ensuring Canadian firms remain competitive in the global market for legal services.
What areas of legal service delivery do you think could be improved? How does legal education need to change in order to keep up? Be creative, and ask tough questions. The innovative advocate is Canada’s legal future.