An interview on the Future of Legal Services and Training of Lawyers

November 5th, 2015 § 0 comments

Interview with Thierry Wickers, Head of the French delegation to the CCBE

Thierry Wickers / Président du Conseil National des BarreauxThierry Wickers / Président du Conseil National des Barreaux

Thierry Wickers

You published a book last year on « La grande transformation des avocats ». Can you tell us about it – what are the drivers of this transformation of lawyers?

In « La grande transformation », I was first interested by the evolution of the relation of lawyers with the market, highlighting the significant influence of EU legislation. With its sectorial directives of 1977 and 1998, the EU seemed to take fully into account the specificity of lawyers, but then has tended more and more to consider them as any other profession of services. However, tackling the challenge of innovation should probably be the priority. All intellectual professions must adapt to the digital revolution and to the developments in artificial intelligence. But lawyers have to face one phenomenon in particular: that information technologies have facilitated the entry of new actors into the legal market. All law firms are solution shops. Those new actors develop new business models, different from the solution shop. They seem able to deliver simpler, more understandable and cheaper legal services.

What are the main challenges for lawyers’ training in this context?

Lawyers are perfectly structured to deliver personalized advice that address specific legal issues submitted to them; they deliver “bespoke” advice for relatively high costs. This requires high-level legal skills and very little else. It is now necessary to promote a positive environment for innovation for young lawyers and to stop encouraging only the reproduction of what already exists. Lawyers need to master a great deal of other knowledge. They also need to acquire a genuine entrepreneurial spirit. So far lawyers’ training was only learning “in business” skills. It is now necessary to promote “on business” skills. We need to implement a deep reform of initial training in order to avoid a situation where lawyers are very well trained to face issues that do no longer exist.

Has your Bar – i.e. le Conseil National des Barreaux de France – started considering the impact of these challenges on the training of lawyers?

In France, initial training of lawyers requires a law degree, and then, candidates need to pass an exam to access a Bar School. This part of the training is essentially financed by the lawyers themselves and is controlled by the National Bar Council (CNB), which runs the Bar Schools’ network. The CNB decided that schools should provide a minimum training on information technologies and on the evolution of the profession. This is a start. Furthermore, each school can freely dispose of 20% of the training time. Some of them already go beyond the minimum requirement. However, the profession cannot lose interest in what is happening at the University where future lawyers spend 5 years or more, only learning about the law!

How do you believe can Bars and Law Societies across Europe best meet these challenges and what is the CCBE’s role?

Bars can take initiatives in several areas. The Paris Bar has set up an ‘incubator’ in order to disseminate new ideas. Some initiatives, as the “Justice Entrepreneurial Project” of the Chicago Bar, deserve consideration and should be imitated. Bars have a crucial role to play in the area of professional regulation. They must interpret the regulation in order to make it evolve and to facilitate innovative practices; they also have to remove barriers to the development of law firms and enable them to face new competitors as mentioned above.

The European Commission now seems committed to act in the crucial area of platforms and the CCBE, which is its interlocutor, will have an essential role to play. Moreover, the CCBE, given its position, is the only one which has access to information about national trends and reactions of European bars. Its decision to put in place a working group dedicated to the future of legal services is very important, as well as the fact that it is interested in the initiatives taken by other national and international organizations of lawyers. In October 2016, in Paris, the CCBE will hold a symposium about all these issues. It will be an important moment to mobilize all European lawyers and show them that the representative bodies are ready to meet the challenges of the future.

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