Benchers Report of Proceedings since the last AGM

by Nancy G. Merrill, QC, President

On behalf of Benchers, I’d like to report on proceedings since the last annual general meeting.

Since the last annual general meeting, the Benchers have been engaged in a variety of activities and initiatives relating to our strategic plan and to other developments that have occupied our attention over the past year.

In 2018, the Benchers established a Mental Health Task Force to look at and make recommendations regarding mental health in the legal profession. The Task Force delivered its first interim report in November, 2018.  That report made a number of recommendations relating to additional resources at the Law Society to assist those dealing with mental health and substance use issues.  The Task Force has continued its work into this year and expects to provide a further report later this year.

Earlier this year, the Benchers established a Licensed Paralegal Task Force to continue the Law Society’s work in recognizing opportunities for properly educated and credentialed paralegals to provide some legal services in areas of law where there is currently a substantial unmet need.  The Task Force is chaired by Trudi Brown, QC and has been looking at how to consult with the profession and others to identify opportunities for the delivery of legal services by licensed paralegals that would benefit the public in areas where there is a substantial unmet legal need.

This past year, the Legal Aid Advisory Committee has carried forward the momentum generated by the Law Society’s second legal aid colloquium, including adopting a two-pronged strategy to advance the Society’s efforts to improve funding for legal aid. The first strategy has involved profiling the important role legal aid plays in our justice system by commissioning several videos capturing the human cost of underfunding this essential public service.  The second strategy has involved establishing a Law Society Legal Aid Coalition.  The Coalition held its first meeting in September. The coalition is comprised of representatives from the YWCA, Elizabeth Fry Society, John Howard Society, Mosaic, West Coast Leaf, RCMP, BC Mental Health & Substance Use Services, Metis Nation and the CBABC. The goal of the coalition is to work collaboratively to increase funding for legal aid to better meet the legal needs of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged residents of BC.

Our Truth and Reconciliation Advisory Committee has been actively working to improve indigenous intercultural competence, including holding a tribunal refresher course on July 10, 2019 focused on Indigenous intercultural competence and making a targeted call for Indigenous applicants for the Law Society of BC’s hearing panel pools. The Committee also supported PLTC obtaining a grant from the Law Foundation to produce intercultural competence education materials in collaboration with experts at the University of Victoria’s Indigenous Law Research Unit and the University of British Columbia’s Indigenous Community Legal Clinic.

The Law Firm Regulation Task Force has reviewed the results of a pilot project to evaluate a law firm self-assessment tool and considered the feedback from the firms that participated in the pilot project. Overall, the responses were favourable both to the process and the content of the pilot project and the Task Force is expected later this year to recommend that the self-assessment process be extended to all firms on a rolling three year basis.

As most of you will know, the Honourable Justice Austin Cullen has been appointed to lead a Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia. The inquiry follows on the heels of two government commissioned reports that suggested some lawyers played a role in money laundering in BC. The mandate of the inquiry includes making findings of fact respecting money laundering in British Columbia, including the extent, growth, evolution and methods of money laundering in legal services.  The Law Society has been granted standing at the Inquiry in respect of the areas of real estate, financial institution and money services, and corporate and professional services. We expect to participate in the hearings starting early next year.

I’m pleased to be able to tell you that the third annual Rule of Law Lecture in June of this year was a very successful event.  More than 225 people heard the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, former chief justice of Canada, and Richard Peck, QC speak on privacy, technology and the rule of law. The discussion was moderated by Bencher Jennifer Chow, QC. A video of the event is available on the Law Society website for those who would like to view it.

Finally, a reminder that Bencher elections for all electoral districts will be held starting November 1st and that nominations close on October 15th.  If you are considering running for Bencher, I encourage you to look at the material on the Law Society website regarding the expectations of Bencher and to view the videos we have posted that will give you a better sense of what is required.  Voting will be online and I encourage everyone to take a few moments and exercise your franchise during the election period in November.  And a further reminder that the deadline has been extended to October 18th to submit nominations for the Law Society awards for leadership in legal aid, pro bono, equity, diversion and inclusion, and excellence in family law.  If you know of someone who deserves to be recognized for their commitment in any of these areas, please complete the nomination form available on the Law Society website.

That concludes the Benchers’ Report.