William M. Everett, QC
It is hard to believe that my term as a Bencher of the Law Society has now come to an end. I’m certain that I speak for all the Benchers when I say what a great honour it is to be elected by one’s peers and entrusted with the responsibility of regulating the profession in the public interest.
The seven years since I was first elected seem to have passed in an instant. I believe that is due to the camaraderie that develops amongst the elected and lay Benchers, together with the sense of accomplishment we share in tackling important, if sometimes difficult, issues. I have had the opportunity and privilege of working with very able and wise Benchers from all corners of the province, with whom I have forged lasting friendships.
It has also been a great honour and privilege to have served as President for the last 15 months. The Benchers have accomplished much during that time:
- A reduced fee: Through creation of a Financial Planning Subcommittee, the Benchers have become more directly involved in the Law Society’s budgeting process and have overseen a reduction in the General Fund assessment in the last two years, from $925 to $775;
- Resolution of the CBA fee issue: Membership in the CBA, and payment of CBA fees, is now voluntary for BC lawyers, the issue having been finally resolved by a referendum;
- Improved government relations: Through the work of a new Public Affairs Committee, we have strengthened our working relationship with government in respect of policy, regulatory and legislative change;
- Lawyers in LLPs: We are now opening the door for lawyers to practise through limited liability partnerships following recent amendments to the Legal Profession Act and Law Society Rules. These will come into effect in January, at the same time as amendments to the Partnership Act;
- Safeguarding land titles: A new, independent Land Title and Survey Authority has emerged. The Law Society made recommendations to government that an independent authority was desirable to preserve the structure and integrity of BC’s world-class land title system;
- Combatting money laundering without compromising clients: When introduced in June, 2000, the federal Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) Act required lawyers to secretly report large cash and “suspicious transactions” to government. After a successful Court challenge to the applicability of that legislation to lawyers on the basis of solicitor-client privilege, the Law Society tackled the problem in a different fashion. Rather than placing at risk any aspect of the lawyer-client relationship, we introduced a rule that restricts lawyers from receiving large cash deposits. We believe this rule to be in the public interest and a positive step toward ensuring that lawyers are not conduits for money laundering or terrorist financing;
- Upholding lawyers' role in real estate transactions: We successfully negotiated with the provincial government to preserve the exemption that allows BC lawyers to sell property under the new Real Estate Act;
- Compensating the public: The Special Compensation Fund has continued paying claims arising out of the Wirick defalcations. Our first priority has been the prompt approval and payment of the claims of all innocent purchasers involved in the Wirick transactions. In addition, the Benchers have worked on a number of reforms to increase public protection in real estate and trust transactions, including:
- recommending changes to real estate practice, the use of the CBA standard undertakings and early confirmation by lawyers of the steps taken to pay out mortgages and other charges;
- adopting rules that require a lawyer to report the failure (by another lawyer or by a financial institution) to provide or file a registrable discharge of mortgage in a timely manner;
- encouraging government to fast-track consumer protection legislation to require financial institutions to provide registrable mortgage discharges in a timely manner;
- instituting an expanded Law Society trust assurance program;
- introducing trust protection coverage as part of the insurance coverage carried by BC lawyers, rather than requiring claimants to apply for discretionary payments from the Special Compensation Fund.
The Law Society of British Columbia has also been very active at the Federation of Law Societies on issues that affect lawyers across Canada. This includes significant work on the national mobility of lawyers; considering a new protocol to deal with police authorities that are executing search warrants in law firms; and expansion of the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII) at www.canlii.org, a superb online library of primary legal materials — statutes, regulations and caselaw from across Canada.
I wish to express my thanks to the elected Benchers for their support, confidence and hard work during my term as President.
I also express my thanks to the lay Benchers for the public perspective they bring to the Benchers table and for the time and energy they commit to our profession. Their contribution is of great importance to the public interest.
For my own part and on behalf of all the Benchers, I also express my thanks and appreciation to all the staff of the Law Society. None of the accomplishments of the Law Society would be possible without their hard work and dedication.
On behalf of the Law Society and the profession, I express our gratitude to Sholto Hebenton, QC, who interrupted his retirement to step forward to serve the public interest and his profession as our Acting Executive Director.
Finally, I extend a warm welcome to our incoming President, Ralston Alexander, QC. I wish him, his Vice-Presidents Rob McDiarmid, QC and Anna Fung, QC, and the other Benchers every success as they continue the work of the Law Society.
There is every reason to be optimistic under their leadership about the future of the Law Society, the independence of the bar and our ability to continue to earn the public’s confidence in our right to self-regulation.