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Canadian Chief Justice on Change in the Legal Profession


When a country's chief justice embraces key concepts of legal futurism you know that the ideas are going mainstream. In an address to the Canadian Bar Association in Calgary last month, Chief Justice Beverly MacLachlin emphasized that technology threatens the very relevance of the legal profession:


In the age of the Internet, people are questioning why they, the consumers of legal product, should be forced to go to expensive lawyers working in expensive office buildings located in expensive urban centres. Why, they ask, should a client retain lawyers, when integrated professional firms can deliver accounting, financial and legal advice? Why are simple disputes not resolved in simple, cost-effective mediation rather than by elaborate and expensive court proceedings? Public attitudes and demands are changing.

She identified four basic opportunities for positive change and challenged the profession to:

  • embrace flexibility and innovation
  • expand service to sectors that may not have benefited from legal services in the past
  • restructure the ways law firms have traditionally organized their internal operations
  • collaborate with other lawyers and other professionals, in recognition of the fact that clients’ problems are often complex, polyvalent and incapable of solution on uniform cookie-cutter models

And she offered two jokes to light the way:

“How many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb?” The answer, “What’s change?”

But, she said,  she prefers this one:

“How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?” The answer, “One, but the light bulb has to want to change.”

Photograph: Agência Brasil


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