It’s still not funny

I can understand why a lot of people tell lawyer jokes. I will never understand why some lawyers do.

Jokes about people in positions of authority — political leaders, clergypeople, doctors and lawyers — trace their lineage back centuries. They’re grounded in people’s real need to exercise some sort of control over or resistance to the authority these figures represent. If you can’t topple el presidente, you can at least mock him, safely, behind closed doors. Lawyers have been powerful figures in society for as long as the profession has been around, so it’s natural that jokes have evolved as a way to cut lawyers down to size and bring them down to a more everyday level. That’s understandable and, from a social point of view, entirely healthy.

My problem with most lawyer jokes is that they’re abusive. Good humour turns on incongruity or unexpected developments; the humour in most lawyer jokes, such as it is, turns on the execrable nature of the lawyer. To the extent he speaks or acts in the joke, the lawyer is greedy, dishonest, stupid, destructively selfish, amoral and nihilistic. (And note that many lawyer jokes don’t even require the lawyer to be more than a silent caricature — he’s just the dead object in the road in front of which there are no skid marks.)

Jokes that hinge on people being lumped into a category aren’t jokes, but stereotypes — if the jokes were really funny, they wouldn’t have to lean on the crutch of prejudice. They dehumanize people, denying them the dignity to which they are fundamentally entitled and making the “joke” easier to swallow. The lawyer in the worst lawyer jokes is not a person to be humbled, but a thing to be abhorred. Yet that doesn’t keep people like the pending Republican nominee for president from telling a particularly unfunny and cruel lawyer joke to boost his own popularity. Continue Reading

Coping with fewer associates

The Ottawa Citizen ran an article over the weekend that caught my eye, thanks in part to this succinct summary of the gigantic demographic challenge facing the North American economy:

Baby boomers are retiring and the number of young adults behind them is on an irreversible slide. Starting in 2011, Canada’s workforce will lose two workers to retirement for every one that enters it. The ratcheting price on youth is a sign of things to come for the rest of the country as an aging population forces provinces to compete for dwindling numbers of young people.

Law firm associates’ salaries are already rising separate and apart from a talent shortage; in time, firms seeking to hire new lawyers are going to find out just what a full-blown seller’s market looks like, and they won’t enjoy it. I can see two long-term trends emerging from this.

First, those organizations and regions in danger of losing talent (i.e., most of them) will continue to look for ways to staunch the flow. Nova Scotia, according to the article, is introducing tax breaks to entice younger Nova Scotians to stay or return. The drawback to that approach is that if you’re trying to compete with Toronto or Calgary (or for that matter, London or Hong Kong) on money, you’re outgunned from the start. It will likely be a stretch just to be in the ballpark of the highest offer, and there’s only so much you can spend to keep up.

Consider instead the lawyer in the Citizen article, who’s returning home to Halifax because it’s a better community for her than Ottawa. Successful lawyer recruitment could in future be less about the firm and more about its environment. Forward-looking law firms could start getting actively involved in their own communities’ efforts to become more attractive to tomorrow’s scarce young worker. They’d join forces with other local organizations and identify potential opportunities and obstacles to young professional recruitment and retention. Continue Reading

The rookie says thanks

I’m going to borrow a page from David Maister‘s blog and take a moment at the start of each month to say thanks to other bloggers who did me the honour of linking here over the past few weeks. I’m brand new at this game, and I genuinely appreciate the warm welcome to the blawgosphere I’ve already been extended. So, many thanks to Simon Fodden, Paul Caron, Amir Kafshdaran, Omar Ha-Redeye, Simon again, Dennis Kennedy, Ron Friedmann, and Steve Matthews, not to mention commenters Amir, Susan and Tybalt. Grazie mille, folks!

Ontario bar admission overhaul, part 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post, here’s the conclusion of a two-part running commentary on the Interim Report To Convocation from the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Licensing and Accreditation Task Force. Again, this won’t be a blow-by-blow account of the report, but I do recommend you read the whole thing. This article (which is also appearing today at SLAW) will simply touch on some of what I regard as the more relevant and noteworthy paragraphs on articling in an altogether remarkable document. Here we go.

83. The Law Society’s articling program has been an established part of the licensing process for decades. It reflects the transition from the earlier legal education system that was predominantly an apprenticeship system to the university model that replaced it. It has provided students-at-law with an opportunity to experience and learn about the practice of law in a relatively risk free context of supervised law firm placement. In the Law Society’s current licensing process the articling term is 10 months. Candidates may begin articling at any time after the end of the skills and professional responsibility program.

84. Unlike the medical model of education, however, articling is not interwoven into the framework of legal education. There is little direct link between the education candidates receive during law school and the “clinical” component that is articles. The profession has long viewed the articling program as a bridge between the two worlds of education and practice.

Just setting the stage here.

90. [I]ncreased law school enrolments, possible establishment of new law schools, increasing numbers of internationally trained candidates [are] problematic for the articling program…. [I]n a system that appears able to place approximately 1,300 articling students in a stable economy, it is likely that the number of candidates seeking articles in 2009 could be approximately 1,730. This does not reflect additional candidates that would come from any new law schools.

To put that in its proper perspective: in 2001, the number of new applicants for articling positions was just 1,247. The system is being overwhelmed. Continue Reading

Ontario bar admission overhaul, part 1

Yesterday, I posted a brief note about the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Licensing and Accreditation Task Force Interim Report To Convocation. Today, as promised, is the start of a two-part running commentary on what struck me as the most relevant or noteworthy aspects of the report. The first half, which I’ll address below, deals with the report’s preamble and its thoughts regarding the Skills and Professional Responsibility Program. Tomorrow, in an article that will first appear at SLAW, I’ll look at the task force’s recommendations concerning the articling system.

Herewith, an annotated stroll through a very important report.

15. A national standard for the approval of common law degrees for the purpose of entrance into law society bar admission or licensing processes has never been articulated in Canada. The only articulated standard for 50 years is a Law Society of Upper Canada document, set out at Appendix 1, that was prepared in 1957 and amended in 1969 (“the amended 1957 requirements”) and which other law societies appear to have tacitly accepted.

I think this nicely sums up the imminent train wreck of a lawyer licensing system that our profession lives with today. The standard was written in 1957, amended in 1969, and tinkered with at regular intervals over the next four decades while Canadian society, the legal services marketplace, and eventually, even the profession itself, evolved into enormously different beasts. In 1957, Louis St. Laurent, Maurice Duplessis, Tommy Douglas and Joey Smallwood all held elected office. Try picturing the legal profession as it existed in that era — that’s the profession that drew up today’s bar admission rules. Continue Reading

Articling abolition? A groundbreaking LSUC report

It arrived quietly and without fanfare. I’ve seen no reports of it in the mainstream media or the legal press. In fact, the young-lawyer-focused law blogs Precedent and Law Is Cool are the only places I’ve seen talk about it so far. But the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Licensing and Accreditation Task Force Interim Report To Convocation, delivered last week in Toronto, is set to completely overhaul the process of admission to the practice of law in Ontario and, eventually, the rest of Canada. If you’re a law student, a lawyer who intends to hire new lawyers someday, or interested at all in the present and future direction of lawyer training in Canada, this report is an absolute must-read.

The main interim report is 44 pages long, followed by an additional 152 pages spread out over 10 appendices. I doubt there’s ever been a more comprehensive report on the bar admission process (nor will any other province likely try to duplicate the task force’s efforts or findings), and I can only imagine what the final report will look like. For what it’s worth, I think the report’s findings are accurate, timely and sorely needed.

I don’t have time here to break down the report in detail — I’ll be writing a more comprehensive commentary that will appear at SLAW in a few days’ time and will be cross-posted here. But this is what you need to know:

1. The Task Force recommends the abolition of the current Skills and Professional Responsibility Program from the bar admission process in Ontario. Of all the reasons the task force gave for this recommendation, perhaps none is more suprising than its assertion that right now, law schools are doing a better job of teaching students skills and professional responsibility than the law society is.

2. The Task Force offers three alternatives to the current articling process by which lawyers ostensibly receive sufficient practical training to enter the practice of law. These are:

(a) make it extremely clear to all current and prospective law students that the law society does not guarantee articling placements, and accordingly cannot guarantee that a law graduate can become a practising lawyer (laissez-faire).

(b) set up or certify a parallel Practical Legal Training Course that provides law graduates who could not obtain articles the chance to earn an equivalent certification in practical legal skills training (Australian model).

(c) Abolish articling outright (the U.S. model).

The Task Force makes no recommendation concerning these three options — it offers pros and cons of each — but it makes quite clear that the status quo is not sustainable, not least because the Ontario bar admission process is facing a tsunami of rising applications over the next few years, culminating in an expected 2009 application class no less than 38.7% larger than in 2001.

The report is groundbreaking, if for no other reason than that it squarely lays out the numerous shortcomings of Ontario’s present bar admission process and demands that the profession act, now, to change. Go read it.

Eversheds: how to set new client standards

I was jazzed a year ago when Eversheds struck a deal with Tyco to become the service and manufacturing multinational’s primary outside counsel, reducing Tyco’s complement of law firms for most legal matters from 250 to 1. Those who doubted the wisdom of the arrangement at the time worried that Tyco would miss out on other firms’ offerings and would suffer from Eversheds’ inevitable sense of complacency, while the firm would be at a greater risk of business-losing conflicts. Even when international gas and engineering giant Linde struck a similar deal shortly afterwards with DLA Piper, there was still uncertainty over this kind of approach.

Well, one year on, says The Lawyer, Tyco is still partnering with Eversheds and singing its praises, especially since the firm must get Tyco to sign off on every legal task it performs on the client’s behalf in order to get paid for it. So how did Eversheds do? Today, it’s now sitting on no fewer than six similar arrangements with other companies, each of which looked at the Tyco deal and were impressed by what they saw. Now other London-based firms are trying to emulate Eversheds’ approach, including Hammonds and Pinsent Masons. So I’d say, on the whole, that this has been a pretty successful undertaking so far.

What really impressed me here, though, is how Tyco’s partnership with Eversheds indirectly helped bring the six other companies on board. When Eversheds first proposed the present arrangement to Tyco, it proffered two cutting-edge software programs: Dealtrack, a budgeting and cost management tool, and Rapid Resolution, a project management application for litigation. But Tyco wanted more: it wanted a way to precisely estimate the total amount it was spending on its legal services company-wide.

Eversheds rose to the challenge and integrated Dealtrack and Rapid Resolution into a more powerful new program called the Global Account Management System (GAMS). “The system breaks down a company’s legal spend by country, jurisdiction or practice area, providing a heat map [of] where money is being either wasted or used efficiently,” says The Lawyer. But there’s more to it than even that. Continue Reading

MCLE’s new look

The cover story for National‘s March 2008 edition will explore mandatory continuing professional development, or MCPD, which will be up and running in Canada less than a year from now. If you’re from England, Wales, Australia, or any of the 43 US states with MCLE regimes, it might surprise you to learn that no Canadian jurisdiction currently mandates ongoing professional development among its members. If you’re from Canada, it might surprise you to learn that a Canadian jurisdiction is going to do just that.

A little less than three months ago (November 7/07), the Law Society of British Columbia’s Lawyer Education Committee released what I expect will one day be seen as a landmark report on MCPD. Earlier this month, the law society accepted the committee’s recommendation for a limited CPD regime in B.C. starting in January 2009. Other provinces are talking about MCPD to a greater or lesser extent, including Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, but none currently intends to go as far as B.C. is going. I recommend the final report, and its interim antecedent, for a thorough and impassioned exploration of the state of post-call legal education in Canada and worldwide.

For me, however, the landmark nature of the report doesn’t arise so much from the new mandatory status of CPD. One way or another, either through law society requirement or through outside intervention by the marketplace or the state, the days when lawyers could choose whether or not to upgrade their skills and knowledge are coming to an end. What’s really promising about the B.C. decision is the broad range of approved CPD activities. Continue Reading

RSS up and running

I finally managed to figure out what I was doing wrong with the RSS feed on WordPress — launching a new blog, I’m finding, is a lot like setting sail in a new ship while you’re still hammering the nails into the hull. If you’d like to obtain the Law21 feed, look for the RSS icon at the top of the first column to the right. Thanks!

The real risk of offshoring

This article from The Recorder about in-house counsel who send legal work offshore includes a line that goes straight on to my list of favourite quotes. Scott Rickman, associate general counsel at Del Monte Foods, has this to say regarding law firms’ standard warnings about offshoring:

“In these articles, there’s always a quote from a partner at a large law firm about the risk of sending work to India. Yes, there’s a risk — there’s a risk to law firm profits.”

Yeah, you got served!*

Obviously there are risks involved with offshoring work to India, but the risk is pretty much the same as it would be when beginning a new relationship with any legal service provider, whether in Mumbai or Montreal. Law firms are the ones with more at stake here — as a consultant in the article puts it, it’s not just about falling profits, it’s also about the law firms’ loss of control. And there’s more of that to come.

Read the comments made in the article by the in-house counsel. Even the most enthusiastic proponents of offshoring aren’t sending bet-the-company work overseas. But they’re not worried about the quality of offshore work per se; they’re concerned that they don’t have longstanding relationships of trust and confidence with these offshore firms, and that Indian firms don’t have the expertise to do higher-end work. Mona Sabet of Cadence, explaining why she doesn’t offshore IP work, says:

“As with any complex activity, it takes years before an organization can develop the depth of proficiency necessary to compete with others who have been in the industry for decades.”

The key element here is time, and the key word is “yet” — this is an industry still in its infancy. If you really believe that an Indian legal service provider won’t establish both excellent working relationships with clients and top-grade expertise in key areas for another 25 or 30 years, or ever, then I think you’ll be uncomfortably surprised, and soon. The North American legal marketplace is extremely vulnerable to hungry competitors, and in India, they’ve only just started the appetizers.

* I apologize for the sorry attempt at hipness. As the saying goes, I wouldn’t be street if you covered me in asphalt.