Quebec law society leaves lawyers on their own to face disruptive technologies

The combination of market forces, increasingly stringent consumer demands and rapid technological developments means that it has never been more important for lawyers to invest and incorporate technology into their practice, asserts a report by the Quebec legal society that calls on members to shift away from hourly billing to alternative pricing arrangements.

Just as a wave of peer-to-peer, access-driven businesses has become a disruptive force in a slew of industries, from travel to car rentals to consumer goods to employment to finance, lawyers will have to “assimilate and be part of the movement instead of fighting” the changes that LegalTech will wreak, adds the report.

“It is crucial to get over the reactive approach, as it ‘the law protects exclusive acts’ performed by lawyers,” says the report, which was published a year ago. “Believing that disruptive technologies will not affect lawyers will only mean a rude awakening in the immediate future. Others, often not members of the legal profession, are already positioning themselves in the legal community.”

The report suggests that lawyers monitor developments, develop a “consistent” strategy, and spend “some time” on a weekly basis and keep notes on innovations that can affect legal practice.

But the report is silent over the role the Barreau du Québec should play to assist lawyers to deal with disruptive technologies.

So too are candidates hoping to become the president of the legal society. (The election will be held next month, in May). The current head of the Barreau, Claudia Prémont, states in her electoral program that she intends to collaborate with the Young Bars, the Bar’s School and universities to develop a new program to help upcoming lawyers. She also promises to collaborate with Cyberjustice Laboratory and other partners to examine the impact of artificial intelligence and new technologies on the profession. But other than encourage practicing lawyers to stop being fearful of new technologies, Prémont does not provide any clues as to what she will do, if she will do anything, to help them out to deal with LegalTech. Lu Chan Khuong, her principal adversary, has yet to publish an electoral program.

In the meantime, other legal societies in the world are forging ahead and providing assistance to members. The Law Society of Singapore, which has nearly 4,900 members, is a case in point. It recently announced that it was going to assist law firms to adopt a baseline suite of legal technology solutions. Under the $300,000 SmartLaw Assist scheme (the equivalent of the salary of the head of Barreau), Singapore law practices can get funding support of up to 70 per cent of the first-year cost of adopting technology products for practice management, online research and online marketing. Five technology products —  including the likes of Corematter, CLIO and INTELLLEX — have been identified as basic technologies that can help law practices perform their essential day-to-day tasks more efficiently. Law firms can apply for funding support to use up to three of these solutions.

In return law firms who apply for the funding will be required to submit a feedback form and a final report at the six-month milestone and at the end of the one-year support period.

“This is but the first of many steps in the transformation of the legal sector, to stay ahead of the impending disruption that technology brings,” said Justice Lee Seiu Kin. “Technology holds the promise of great productivity and effectiveness. We must seize the opportunity to leverage this to higher quality legal services and cost savings for law firms and ultimately, for the clients and the society at large.”

Perhaps the Barreau du Québec should take note.

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