Lay Benchers

The Lieutenant Governor in Council announced on December 11, 2003 that all six Lay Benchers of the Law Society - Michael Falkins, Patrick Kelly, Patrick Nagle, June Preston, Lilian To and Dr. Maelor Vallance - have been reappointed for the 2004-2005 Bencher term.

Like elected lawyer Benchers, Lay Benchers are Law Society volunteers. They bring a public viewpoint to all work of the Society, in policy discussions before committees and task forces and at the Benchers table.

They also participate on hearing panels. One of the Law Society's first Lay Benchers was the late journalist and broadcaster Jack Webster who was appointed in 1988 and served for eight years. Since then, Lay Benchers have included social workers, union leaders, community workers and members of other professions.

When the Benchers met with the BC government caucus on November 5, Lay Bencher June Preston shared her observations on the importance of both Lay Benchers and lawyer Benchers in governance of the legal profession. This is a summary of her remarks.

Summary of remarks by June Preston to the Benchers and members of the BC government caucus on November 5, 2003:

I would like to comment on two aspects of the Law Society. First, the role of a Lay Bencher. Second, the governance of the Law Society of BC as a self-regulatory body.

I discovered at my table that Lay Bencher was the new "word of the day" — and one that many of you did not yet know!

It is worth noting that Lay Benchers were first appointed in 1988 to diminish any public perception of the Law Society as a "closed, self-serving guild."

There are six Lay Benchers. We are a diverse group of individuals who recognize the responsibility and importance of our appointment. I think I can speak on the behalf of the others in saying we feel valued for our contribution to the Law Society.

Lay Benchers truly are an established part of the governance of the legal profession. We are full members of Law Society committees and task forces and members of both credentials and discipline hearing panels. I sit on five committees and one task force. I chair the Complainants' Review Committee, which relates very closely to the public who have complaints about lawyers. I am also a member of the Executive Committee, having been elected to that role by my peer Lay Benchers.

We are treated as equal members of these committees, and the view seems to be that we improve the quality of the regulatory decisions by bringing a broader and sometimes alternative perspective to the important deliberations. Our votes do count and our contributions in committee discussions can make a difference!

The reading and preparation for meetings is very time-consuming; however, it is a stimulating learning experience! As a member of the general public, I previously had no understanding of how lawyers were governed, regulated or disciplined. This opportunity has changed that and highlights the importance of relaying more information about the Law Society to the public.

One might ask (as I did as a new Lay Bencher): Who should be regulating lawyers?

In the BC Law Society, this falls to the Benchers. There are 25 lawyer Benchers from all parts of BC who are elected by their peers. They represent all locations in the province so are able to keep a close eye on the legal needs of the citizens across BC. It seems they often have been active in their local CBA Branch. The Benchers like and respect other lawyers. They are very knowledgeable and current about the law and they represent a diversity of law practices. They value their profession enough to give time from their private lives and busy practices.

From my observations, this Society has clear rules, regulations and policies and is generally effectively governed. Even with unexpected events, such as the resignation of its President in 2003, the Society managed to carry on effectively, without skipping a beat.

The 25 lawyer Benchers serve as "frontline" lawyers who face the public every day with the responsibility for upholding the image and reputation of lawyers. This is clearly of great importance to them. The Lay Benchers have also seen the importance that the lawyer Benchers place on addressing issues in the "best interest of the public."

The Benchers are proud of their profession and feel great concern when another lawyer is in conflict with the Law Society rules or is found to be doing harm to the public. They take seriously issues affecting access to justice and equity and diversity in the profession. Most of them also volunteer time to their own home communities through a variety of organizations.

Now I would like to share some observations about the governance of the Law Society of BC:

  • issues seems to be handled by the Society in a timely fashion;
  • the Society strives to be technically up to date and to have regular communication with over 9,000 members;
  • there is excellent, professional assistance from dedicated, long-serving staff;
  • Benchers play an active, vital role in teaching, guiding and monitoring the credentials of those entering the profession of law as well as regulating the standard of practice and competence of members;
  • there is enthusiasm and dedication from the non-Bencher lawyers who volunteer on a variety of committees;
  • the Society is well connected across Canada, both with other law societies and with the Canadian Bar Association, and even internationally on issues in common with other countries.

Tonight has been an opportunity to learn more about the Law Society through the conversations around the tables.

I once heard a conference speaker suggest that, to develop more meaningful relationships, we need to have "more conversations"... but he said the conversations aren't about the relationship. The conversations are the relationship! So hopefully, from tonight's gathering, you will remember who you met at your table and the conversations and this will continue as an important, ongoing relationship with the Law Society of BC.