Access, regulation take centre stage in 2011

Gavin Hume, QCby Gavin Hume, QC

With mere weeks until the end of my term as president, my attendance at the International Bar Association’s 2011 Annual Conference in Dubai in early November provided a most appropriate backdrop for the work of the Law Society this year.

The conference was eye-opening, as was the emirate of Dubai itself, but for reasons that may surprise you.

Without exception, the key topics of the conference and the issues causing the most concern among my counterparts were subjects well known to the Benchers and staff of the Law Society. Topics such as alternative business structures and cloud computing are very much at the fore of these meetings, and I am very pleased to report that the Law Society is keeping abreast or, in many cases, is ahead of other legal regulators around the world. In fact, the Law Society was mentioned more than once for specific work that is considered leading edge at this time.

To recap some of the specifics that have led to our international recognition, we have accomplished much in 2011. This is the final year of our first, three-year strategic plan of which all initiatives will either be completed or initiated by year end.

Of particular ongoing focus this year was access to justice. The Benchers and staff continue to work very hard to do what we can in this arena.

In 2011, we implemented new rules that allow articled students to provide certain legal services to the public under the supervision of a lawyer, and we are now working to expand the roles for paralegals.

The Law Society, together with the Canadian Bar Association and others, supported the work of the Public Commission on Legal Aid, which earlier this year released a report that has been an important part of the access dialogue.

The new model code of conduct was developed by a series of committees ­coordinated by the Federation of Law Societies and well represented by BC lawyers, including myself. With the majority of the code now approved and the remainder to be finalized next year, the code will increase the ease with which lawyers can move and practise in other provinces.

The Law Society partnered with the Canadian Bar Association to sustain the REAL (Rural Education and Access to Lawyers) program for two years. This initiative is designed to attract new lawyers to rural BC communities, many of which either already have a shortage of lawyers or are projected to in the coming years.

We also launched a campaign to encourage sole practitioners to take the critical step of arranging for a winding up caretaker and fulfill their obligation to their clients to ensure continuity of service.

Also in 2011, we made some significant improvements to our regulatory effectiveness.

Lawyers and the public were invited to participate in our discipline and credentials hearing panels to make our regulatory processes more transparent and reflective of the public interest. We received applications from over 130 lawyers and almost 600 members of the public and have now added 26 lawyers and 21 members of the public to our hearing panel pools. Training began in October, and panels now comprise a Bencher, a non-Bencher lawyer and a public representative.

Additionally, new guidelines have been adopted to assist the Discipline Committee in making appropriate and consistent decisions on professional conduct matters that come before them.

In early 2011, Law Society staff completed a months-long evaluation of all core regulatory processes to find ways to work more effectively. As a result of that review, several hundred suggestions, both simple and complex, were made to improve operations. Many changes have now been made and others, including implementation of an information management system, are underway.

Also as a result of the review, the Law Society reorganized its professional ­conduct group to speed processes and ­improve overall effectiveness. Now, a specialized intake unit assesses initial complaints and gathers key documents and a complex files unit handles more complicated matters from start to finish.

By the time my term ends, the Benchers will have approved a new strategic plan covering the years 2012-2014. The new plan will continue to focus on improving access to justice and enhancing public confidence in lawyers. It will also call for regulatory innovation as the legal profession continues to evolve in a rapidly changing world characterized by technology and growing expectations.

This has been a rewarding, fulfilling and incredibly busy year. I want to thank my fellow Benchers and our other volunteers for their admirable commitment to this organization. And I want to commend the staff of the Law Society, under the leadership of Timothy McGee. The public and lawyers are well served by the staff of this organization, who are dedicated to the highest standard of professional regulation and support of the profession.

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