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B.C. law society president Craig Ferris

B.C. law society seeking public input of what legal practice will look like over next decade

Monday, January 20, 2020 @ 9:34 AM | By Ian Burns


The Law Society of British Columbia wants to hear from you about the future of the legal profession.

The law society’s futures task force is seeking input from lawyers, notaries, paralegals, the judiciary, organizations and the public to assist in its consideration of what legal practice will look like over the next decade, in particular the factors and forces that are likely to influence the delivery of legal services and the regulation of the legal profession.

Law Society of B.C. president Craig Ferris

Law society president Craig Ferris said law societies “really need to listen, and not just to the public,” and added he doesn’t have any preconceived notions about what the results should be.

“We talk a lot about access, but access is a general term,” he said. “One of the strengths of Canada is our legal system and it is a driver of our economy in the country, and so our legal system needs to continue to work and be respected in order for that to continue to happen.”

The task force has released a consultation paper identifying a number of forces it wishes to explore, one of which is the influence of technology, in particular artificial intelligence. Ferris said technology should be a “great equalizer” in the profession in order to create greater access and work to bring down the cost of legal services.

“Right now, technology is really focused on assisting the lawyer — it is a tool being used for lawyers to make their products better and more efficient,” he said. “But you do have to understand the limits of the technology, and it is a challenge to make sure lawyers are competent enough to use it in a way that makes sense.”

Ferris said he doesn’t believe technology will replace lawyers, but it will disrupt the system and affect how people are employed in the practice of law and how lawyers are trained.

“Those are all issues that we will be facing both the profession and lawyers going forward,” he said. “There is a great quote from [University of Toronto law professor] Benjamin Alarie that said he didn’t think AI is going to replace the lawyer, but lawyers who use AI will replace lawyers who don’t.”

Another area the committee is seeking to explore is the growth of alternate business structures and alternatives to lawyers providing legal services. Ferris said that has “come to a head” in the profession, noting the law society struck a licensed paralegal task force last year.

“[The futures task force] isn’t trying to do the work of that committee, but it is running parallel to it,” he said. “In Australia they have allowed outside investment in certain types of firms, and the results of that as to increasing access to justice has been mixed. But with the rise of online document providers in the U.S. and things like LegalZoom there have been a lot of challenges to the current business model, and so we want to look at different structures.”

In addition to the influence of technology and alternative business structures, changes in legal education, including pre-call education, articling, continuing professional development and mentorship are areas that the law society is seeking input on. Ferris said you can look across the country at how legal education is changing.

“When I went to law school in the late 1980s there were a certain number of law schools and they were all relatively the same cost,” he said. “But we now have a whole range of law schools to pick from in this country. In B.C. we started up Thompson Rivers University, which is a smaller law school, and Ryerson is looking at setting up a very different model of legal education. So, what does this mean? And of course, you have so many people coming to this country because they want to be here, but they are foreign-trained lawyers — so how do we make sure those individuals are also meeting our standards?”

Responses to the consultation, which runs until the end of February, can be sent through this website, or via e-mail to survey@lsbc.org. Ferris said the goal is to get a report on future directions out by the end of the year.

“We will see if that happens, but that is my personal goal because that will be the end of my tenure as president,” he said.

The law society has also renewed its pool of hearing panel members with the appointment of six new public representatives and seven new members of the legal profession. These individuals will join the 23 continuing and reappointed hearing panel pool members.

The newly appointed adjudicators include Indigenous representation as well as representation from communities throughout the province. Hearing panels adjudicate discipline matters involving lawyers, and examine the fitness and character of individuals applying to be a lawyer. Each discipline and credentials case is heard by a three-person panel comprising one member of the law society’s governing board of benchers, one lawyer who is not a bencher and one member of the public who is not a lawyer.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily please contact Ian Burns at Ian.Burns@lexisnexis.ca or call 905-415-5906.