This week we wrote on Legal Futures about the report of the Law Society of Upper Canada's ABS working group, which came out against the idea of majority non-lawyer ownership of law firms.
This was no surprise to me. Some months ago I gave evidence, over the phone, to the working group and it was clear that the approach was 'Why should we allow ABSs?', rather than, as I suggested to its members, 'Why shouldn't we?'
Mitch Kowalski, one of the most outspoken proponents of ABS in Canada, has written the article linked to below, analysing in depth the reasoning of the working party and, to put it mildly, finding it wanting. He comes to the same conclusion I did - they just don't want them and the reason is as, if not more, likely to be protectionism as anything more noble.
Obviously they drew on the experience over here. I have written before that it may be too early to reach a definitive judgment on ABSs in England and Wales, but we are now a week away from the fourth anniversary of the first licence being granted (by the Council for Licensed Conveyancers to Premier Property Lawyers). Thus far, ABSs have in some ways had an unexceptional tale to tell - some have done interesting things, others have failed, but for regular business reasons, rather than for anything particularly evil that would rot the foundations of the legal profession. Rather like traditional law firms, one might say.
Arguably it is this very lack of exceptionalism that should have reassured the lawyers in Ontario. But perhaps open minds were in short supply. We shouldn't forget that it took Sir David Clementi, an experienced figure from outside the law with government support, to kick-start the reform process here. Left to the profession, I doubt it would have ever happened.
However, it becomes clear from reading the report that ABS had to show itself to be demonstrably better than traditional law firm structures. In other words, the Working Group granted – without explanation – a presumption in favour of traditional law firms. Is that fair, logical or even reasonable? I have written before that an objective and fair review of ABS would only ask one simple question: Does ABS demonstrably create more mischief than the current structures?