Law Society Discrimination Ombudsperson

December 14, 1999

— Request for Proposals —

The Law Society is seeking a Discrimination Ombudsperson to provide anti-discrimination and anti-harassment services to lawyers, law firm staff, and articled law students and law students. The deadline for proposals is January 31, 2000.

Background

The Law Society of British Columbia is the self-governing body for lawyers in B.C. The primary responsibility of the Law Society under the provincial Legal Profession Act is to protect the public interest in the administration of justice.

The Law Society established the Ombudsperson Program in 1995 to help eliminate discrimination in the legal profession by resolving harassment complaints without litigation, educating lawyers and staff about workplace harassment and advising law firms in need of workplace policies. The program has been restructured for 2000 and the key functions are described in this request for proposals and the terms of reference that follow.

Ombudsperson role and function

The Ombudsperson offers free and confidential assistance to anyone working in a B.C. law firm (a lawyer, staff member or student) who asks for help in resolving a discrimination or harassment complaint against a lawyer. The Ombudsperson does this by:

  1. taking complaints and providing advice and counselling as to what options the complainant may have;

  2. facilitating mediation between complainants and respondents with one of a panel of Law Society-retained mediators if mediation services are required and requested; and

  3. assisting the Law Society in developing its anti-discrimination, anti-harassment and diversity educational programs and model policies.

The Ombudsperson works as an independent contractor of the Law Society under the terms of reference on pages 3 and 4. The Ombudsperson will provide a quarterly statistical report to the Benchers, Equity and Diversity Committee and the Executive Director.

Qualifications

The successful applicant must:

  • be a lawyer eligible to practise in British Columbia;

  • have counselling skills;

  • have expertise and experience in dealing with issues of anti-discrimination, anti-harassment and diversity;

  • have knowledge of employment law and human resources issues;

  • have experience in anti-discrimination, anti-harassment and diversity education, training and policy development; and

  • have familiarity with mediation and other alternative means of dispute resolution.

Proposals

Proposals can be submitted to:

Kuan Foo, Equity and Diversity Program Coordinator
Law Society of British Columbia
845 Cambie Street
Vancouver, B.C.
V6B 4Z9
Fax: (604) 669-5232

The deadline for proposals is January 31, 1999. For more information, contact Mr. Foo at,. (604) 443-5727 (toll-free in B.C. 1-800-903-5300), TTY at (604) 443-5700 or by e-mail to kfoo@lsbc.org.

— Terms of Reference —
Goal

The goal of the Discrimination Ombudsperson program is to change behaviour within the legal profession to eliminate discrimination in accordance with the anti-discrimination rule in the Professional Conduct Handbook:

A lawyer must not discriminate on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, marital or family status, disability or age.1

Role of the Discrimination Ombudsperson

The Discrimination Ombudsperson is a neutral and impartial person, whose primary role is to provide confidential and informal assistance in resolving complaints of discrimination to all those within the program’s jurisdiction. The Discrimination Ombudsperson’s specific functions are:

  1. Intake, advice and intervention — This is the primary function of the Discrimination Ombudsperson. In fulfilling this function, the Discrimination Ombudsperson shall:

  1. be available to receive complaints of discrimination;

  2. provide non-legal advice to complainants; and

  3. approach respondents for the purpose of resolving complaints.

The Discrimination Ombudsperson shall not give legal advice to complainants or respondents.

  1. Facilitating mediation — With the agreement of the parties, the Discrimination Ombudsperson may refer the parties to a qualified mediator from a predetermined list. The Discrimination Ombudsperson shall recruit, maintain and administer the list with an eye to ensuring a variety of areas of expertise and geographical location. The Discrimination Ombudsperson shall give parties their choice of mediator from the list limited only by geographical constraints.

  2. Reporting — The Discrimination Ombudsperson shall provide quarterly reports to the Executive Director, the Benchers and the Equity and Diversity Committee of the Law Society. Such reports shall include statistical data on frequency of program use, types of complaints and enquiries dealt with, geographical location of complaints, frequency and outcomes of mediation (i.e., resolved or unresolved) and any other pertinent non-confidential data. The reports shall not include the names of the parties or the law firms involved in the complaints.

  3. Education and workplace policy development — The Discrimination Ombudsperson shall collaborate with the Law Society’s Equity and Diversity Program Coordinator in developing the content of the Law Society’s anti-discrimination, equity and diversity education initiatives, including formal education workshops, publications and model workplace policy development. The Discrimination Ombudsperson shall also receive and coordinate requests for formal education workshops around anti-discrimination issues and may conduct such workshops at the request of the Law Society.

Jurisdiction and access to services
  1. The Discrimination Ombudsperson provides services to lawyers, articled students and support staff working for legal employers, and students enrolled in law school in situations in which they interact with lawyers.

  2. The Discrimination Ombudsperson shall maintain a dedicated telephone number, messaging service and e-mail.

  3. The Discrimination Ombudsperson is expected to provide services at times convenient to the parties, which may include times outside of regular office hours.

Relationship with the Law Society
  1. The Discrimination Ombudsperson is an independent contractor of the Law Society and shall maintain a separate address, phone number and records. The Discrimination Ombudsperson’s records regarding complaints and counselling are confidential and are not accessible to the Law Society.

  2. The Discrimination Ombudsperson’s main points of contact with the Law Society are:

  1. the Executive Director (James Matkin) — the Discrimination Ombudsperson will report directly to the Executive Director.

  2. the Program Coordinator, Equity and Diversity (Kuan Foo) — the Discrimination Ombudsperson will work in collaboration with the Program Coordinator on educational initiatives as detailed above.

  3. the Equity and Diversity Committee (Chair, Anna Fung) — the Discrimination Ombudsperson will maintain a high level of contact with the Equity and Diversity Committee to keep the members apprised of current policy issues and to act as a resource to the Committee.

Key indicators of success

These are the key indicators of success for this program:

  1. Complaints of discrimination are resolved in a manner that is:

  1. timely and satisfactory to the parties; and

  2. cost-effective to the Law Society.

  1. Parties have easy and convenient access to the Discrimination Ombudsperson.

  2. Confidentiality and privacy of the parties involved in a complaint is maintained.

  3. The Discrimination Ombudsperson’s independence from the Law Society is maintained.

  4. Current and prospective lawyers and law firm employees have a greater awareness about anti-discrimination issues in the practice of law and in the operation of law firms.


1 Chapter 2, Rule 3.