Law is complicated. Trite, but true.
Over time, the proliferation of legislation, regulation, and precedent (judge-made law) has resulted in an intricate web of legal rules and principles that can confound even the most seasoned practitioner. There are nearly 40 provincial statutes starting with the letter A in British Columbia alone – never mind the courts’ interpretation of those statutes!
This complexity is made even more so by the fact that it exists within every field or niche of law: tax, family, intellectual property, real estate, environmental, municipal, labour and employment, insurance, immigration, business, banking… Well, you get the picture.
As a result, most lawyers tend to specialize. The legal generalist of the past – someone who could (and would) draft a will, review a shareholder agreement, and provide tax advice all in one day – is becoming harder to find.
The exception to this specialization trend is the lawyer who lives and works in smaller or more remote communities found outside of Canada’s bigger centres. In such communities, the relatively small number of lawyers per capita coupled with residents’ wide variety of legal needs make a general practice a necessity. As one lawyer from Smithers, BC explained, small town practitioners need to be flexible and willing to take whatever comes their way.
And in the vast majority of cases, generalists serve their communities very well, with a breadth of knowledge that allows them to advise clients on most common legal issues. There are times, however, when a more specialized perspective is needed. Questions arising in the context of spousal, employment and business relationships can fall outside a generalist’s expertise, requiring him or her to consult with out-of-town colleagues or even turn the potential client away.
Given all this, how can the legal profession simultaneously ensure the generalist’s survival and help members of remote communities access the specialized services they need?
Like we said. It’s complicated.