Lay Benchers offered per diem

The Benchers have approved a policy, in effect April 1, to offer a per diem payment to lay Benchers for their service to the Law Society, following the recommendation of a special committee charged with studying the issue.

That committee — chaired by G. Leigh Harrison, QC and composed of Life Benchers Warren Wilson, QC, Trudi Brown, QC and William Everett, QC as well as lawyer Martin Taylor, QC — canvassed the practices in other professions and other provinces. The committee canvassed whether BC’s lay Benchers should receive some form of remuneration and, if so, how much and who should pay it.

The committee observed that remuneration could help recognize the hard work and valuable contribution of lay Benchers, although this advantage had to be weighed against the possibility that such payment might imply an inequality between lawyer and non-lawyer Benchers. On balance, a majority of the committee favoured remunerating lay Benchers.

A point the committee found persuasive is that lay Benchers in all of the larger jurisdictions outside of BC receive compensation. Moreover, there are some fair reasons to distinguish the position of elected Benchers and lay Benchers with respect to remuneration — since the elected Benchers are lawyers and have a direct interest in good governance of the profession while lay Benchers are representatives of the public and have a more general interest.

In some jurisdictions (notably, Alberta and Ontario), it is the government that pays lay Benchers. In BC, the provincial government’s policy is to remunerate appointees to outside bodies only if government appoints a majority of board members. In the view of the Law Society’s special committee, there were both principled and practical reasons why the Society should pay the lay Benchers and not call on government to do so.

“Considering the paramount public interest in an independently governed legal profession, and in view of the encroachments on that independence in other jurisdictions, […] the Law Society should not invite anything that could result in real or perceived government influence over Benchers,” the committee recommended. “The practical point is that the government does not pay any of its lay appointees to professional governing bodies, and is most unlikely to agree to do so.”

The amount of the per diem approved by the lawyer Benchers is $125 per day and $75 per half day (four hours or less) for Benchers meetings and hearings. As noted by the special committee, the amount of the remuneration is not intended to reflect the value of the lay Benchers’ time or contributions or to serve as income replacement, but rather “to soften the financial impact of their service and make it possible for a wide range of people to accept appointment.”

None of the Law Society’s six lay Benchers participated in the decision on remuneration.