Why we will need to further define legal services featuring Joshua Lenon from Clio
Although legal services have been defined in various statutes and regulations, the definition of a “legal service” remains unclear. While there are consequences to this murky definition, the core of this article examines how technology will shape a clearer definition of legal services.
Various jurisdictions have attempted to define the provision of legal services. For instance, in Ontario, the Law Society Act states that a legal service is when “the person engages in conduct that involves the application of legal principles and legal judgment with regard to the circumstances or objectives of a person.” Another piece of legislation that defined legal services is the Legal Services Act 2007 in England and Wales. The legislation regulated the legal services market by defining legal services as those activities that are reserved for solicitors or barristers (licensed legal professionals). An example of an activity reserved for solicitors or barristers could be completing a real estate transaction or appearing before a tribunal on someone’s behalf.
To better understand the nuances of this definition, and where the profession is heading, OLIH sat down with Joshua Lenon. Mr. Lenon is the Lawyer in Residence at Clio, a cloud-based legal technology company. Clio’s software offers law firms practice management support including client intake, contact management, scheduling, document management, timekeeping, billing, and trust accounting. Lenon advises Clio on legal professionals' needs.
Lenon explained that regardless of these definitions, there is an entire class of services that relate to legal needs but that are not reserved specifically for solicitors or barristers. Although taxes are governed by laws and have legal penalties when violated, the preparation of taxes is not reserved for legal professionals. There are many other examples of industries that are regulated by laws and have legal ramifications but do not require solicitors or barristers.
Lenon believes that as the legal profession grows there will be a need to further define the role of an advocate so that it is congruent with the tasks of a lawyer. Once the role of lawyers is carved out, all other activities will by necessity become the realm of someone else, even if they are legally tangential. Under the vague definition of legal services, the work of accounting firms, such as H&R Block or the four big account firms that handle corporate taxes, could be considered an unauthorized practice of law. However, accountants do not face the severe consequences of the unauthorized practice of law because the ground of tax preparation has been ceded to accountants. As we further define the role of advocates, work that does not require legal skills will also be ceded to other professions.
Technology will begin to filter out tasks that do not require a lawyer. Lenon anticipates that what is currently make-work for lawyers will be taken over by technology. Certain tasks can be handled by algorithms and artificial intelligence. Creating a standard will, a non-contested marriage dissolution, a prenup, or even real estate transactions can be standardized and left to technology. With standardization, lawyers will act as an informed, diligent counsel for when disputes arise in these transactions. In other words, the counsel of a lawyer will ensure an equitable outcome and will remedy disputes when there are multiple stakes in an issue. Although technology may eliminate the busy work of lawyers, this filter effect will carve out a niche for counsel that can help people navigate and mitigate risks to reach an equitable solution.
In all, our conversation with Lenon can be summarized as follows: the legal profession will need to further define which tasks are reserved for advocates. Transactions that do not require legal skills will be delegated to other professions and various legal technologies.
The Ottawa Legal Innovation Hub (OLIH) is a student-run organization within the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa. At OLIH we believe the legal profession should evolve to reflect the realities and meet the needs of the 21st century. OLIH is committed to transforming how law is practiced by inspiring the next generation of lawyers to think outside the box.