Let me start where I finished in my recent perspective on “The Future of The Professions” according to the Susskinds.
A Future Scenario for the Professions by the Susskinds:
“The professions are our current solution to the challenge in a society of supporting people who need access to practical expertise. Yet affordable access to this expertise remains inadequate. If the price of keeping the personal interaction is maintaining this status quo, then the personal touch is also an indulgence we cannot afford
Instead we might turn, for example, to a para-professional, someone with sufficient insight into an area of expertise as well as the genuine capacity to empathize. By disengaging the application of expertise from the communication with the recipient (this itself is a type of decomposition, this moves us, in part, away from the traditional model of production and distribution of practical expertise towards the paraprofessional model. In both cases, though, human beings are still involved”
Paraprofessionals are Alive and Well in Big Law
And they’re in no way subservient to the lawyers they work with. A notable Canadian example is non-lawyer and former Premier of Ontario, Mike Harris. He was recruited and proudly promoted as a key advisor (the vernacular is “door opener”) by one the Toronto “Bay Street” (Cdn. Version of Wall Street) law firms. There’s no question that, to quote the Susskinds, he had “sufficient insight” and the “genuine capacity to empathize” on behalf of clients with the inner circles of government.
The Society of Trusts and Estate Practitioners (STEP) provide high end estate/tax planning services to the “well healed/well connected” wealthy 1% of the population. The STEP certification program looks very much like a law school specialized curriculum. However, the graduate mix is a conglomeration of lawyers, accountants and financial services trust & estate planning department employees. The STEP web site practitioner testimonials are replete with lawyers lauding the value and benefits of linking the “people/financial management” segments of their professional practice to what the Susskinds have labelled as paraprofessionals. These STEP practitioners may lack expertise in the legalese but add value by bringing their people management/advisory skills to the client service mix.
Paraprofessional are a no go in main stream Legal Services market
However, what the Susskinds are referring to, and what the average lawyer is either unaware of or, unfortunately through the through blind adherence to law society guidelines averse to, is the potential for an alignment by a lawyer with other professionals in a paraprofessional context who may or may not be regulated. This is the mainstream of the legal services market.
For example, there is a natural fit for a lawyer who practices family law to align with a psychologist. The lawyer (professional) is the analytical expert and the psychologist (paraprofessional) is the human behavior manager. The Supreme Court of Canada, in a sponsored study into why the majority of family law dispute court matters were now being self-litigated, recommended this approach as preferable because of its affordability and potential to facilitate constructive resolution instead of stoking anger among parties with lawyer versus lawyer led obtrusive bait and attack tactics at considerable expense to clients who eventually become victims on a legal battlefield. To their credit, there is an emerging cohort of family lawyers who have taken at least the first step in this direction by marketing themselves as “non-litigation” law firms, albeit with lawyers only on the masthead if you please.
As straightforward, sensible and client centered as the family law approach to designing and delivering legal services might seem on the surface, it’s fraught with entanglements in the Canadian and U.S. legal services markets. If attempts are actually made to incorporate paraprofessionals into the mix this would become labelled as a multi-disciplinary practice. The North American legal profession is obsessed with protecting its monopoly turf. It’s quick to issue an Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL) cease and stop directive to any attempt to officially link the legal profession with paraprofessionals, even though in the case of psychologists they are recognized self-regulated professionals in their own right in their designated field.
The North American legal profession remains locked into the traditional lawyer/paralegal mode of practice. Everyone works under the direction of the lawyer in the design and delivery of legal services.
If you’re not a lawyer you’re a paralegal or administrative support. The lawyer is the ultimate sole decision maker. That is, unless of course you’re big enough, as is the case with the Wall St./Bay Street law firms, to invite “untouchable” high profile advisors to occupy a coveted corner office and operate as a barely at arms length independent advisor.
The North American Legal Profession is the Paraprofessional Outlier
The health profession, to which lawyers are fond of equating their professional status, has acknowledged the reality and value of the paraprofessional in the design and delivery of health services. In my home province of Ontario there are now 27 distinct self-regulated health professions. My family doctor, who is my primary source for health consultation, is a member of a health services clinic that contains a team of medical doctors, chiropractors, occupational therapists, naturopaths and an on site pharmacy. It’s linked to an initial first call/response e-health tele-centre operated by nurse practitioners. The public interest is protected and clients are being well served by being provided with a range of professional/paraprofessional health care choices.
Dentists and dental hygienists now function in a high quality mutually supportive professional/paraprofessional relationship.
Two Routes to the Paraprofessional Fix for the Legal Profession
- Paraprofessionals are alive, well and prospering in the U.K. legal services market, as are the traditional professions of barristers and solicitors. The combination of the creation of several complementary self-regulated legal providers and the enabling of the alternative business structure (ABS) model for creative organizational structures that enables non-lawyers to take on active service management roles has opened the floodgates for innovative legal services provider organizations. This is the ideal “Plan A” route.To date, the North American legal profession has remained in denial of the realities of the 21st century professional/paraprofessional model, in which the U.K. is the acknowledged leader. It has steadfastly resisted what is becoming a clarion call from the public to “get with the program” who are voting with their wallets by cutting back on their usage of lawyers vis-à-vis more client service focused providers who, based on the Susskind terms of reference, can be classified as paraprofessionals.
- Aspiring North American paraprofessionals need to resort to “Plan B”. For lawyers who want to expand their professional practice capability to personally incorporate paraprofessional expertise into their marketable service they need to look to at an innovative “Combined LLM” to add credibility and value to their service. For aspiring non professionals or paraprofessionals who don’t want to practice law per se but want to provide a law related advocacy and/or law complementary consulting service that confirms to the Susskind terms of reference they need to look at innovative direct entry “Combined LLM “degree programs in the UK.
What is a Combined LLM?
How does it fit into the “Future of Law”?
 Richard Susskind, Daniel Susskind Oxford, The Future of the Professions, Oxford University Press. (2015)