I’m proud to serve as the third Law Society President from Kamloops. Among other things, I believe we have started some interesting – some would say bold – traditions for Bencher retreats.
When Peter Millward was Treasurer in 1975 (the title was changed to President in 1999), he arranged for the Benchers to actively participate in a rodeo at their retreat, with of course, the necessary releases signed in advance. No one was badly hurt.
In 2006, when Master Rob McDiarmid was the President, the Bencher retreat was held at the South Thompson Guest Ranch. No horses were involved that year. However, this year, we continued the western theme at our retreat at Sun Peaks Resort, and a few of us enjoyed a trail ride in this beautiful alpine setting.
The broad theme of the retreat was Part 3 of the Legal Profession Act: “Protection of the Public.” There was spirited discussion around the Society’s duty to protect the public interest in the administration of justice by “preserving and protecting the rights and freedoms of all persons.”
To some, the phrase needs tamping down: as regulators we only have limited resources and political influence, so both should be used cautiously. Caution is a well-known attribute of our profession; it seems to be a vital part of our DNA.
However, for others, the old Star Trek line, “to boldly go where no man has gone before” epitomized their views. For me as a lawyer, even writing that line is difficult. But all the concepts discussed at the retreat provide important background for the Benchers, and putting the “boldly going” ideal on the table allowed us to explore new approaches to the decisions we have to make this year and will make in future years.
To “protect” is a bold concept, even though it’s constrained by the general language of section 3 of the Act. Protecting the public certainly requires the Law Society to be bold on the important issues, but of course the challenge lies in deciding which issues are the important ones.
As several Benchers reminded us, “access” continues to be important. However there are many stakeholders and the Law Society is only one of many players. The government, the judiciary, other organizations such as the CBA and TLABC and the profession itself all play a part in addressing the question of access.
What have we done on access in the recent past? We have passed rules to increase the jurisdiction of articled students. We have created rules permitting “designated paralegals” to deliver legal services directly to clients when supervised by lawyers. We have created rules allowing for limited retainers permitting clients to ask for help in specific areas and not others. These rule changes all help with access.
Of course, there’s always more we can do. One of the ideas we might explore is allowing retired lawyers in provide more pro bono legal advice and service. We already have a form of this now. You may not be aware that the Lawyers Insurance Fund provides free coverage for retired, non-practising and insurance exempt lawyers who provide various pro bono services through approved programs. We as leaders can encourage, cajole and perhaps coerce some more help here.
We can also perhaps enlist the help of students who cannot get articles. Can we somehow get them into a supervised pro bono situation and give credit for articles? Can we use the Justice Access Centres here?
On another front, our education advisory committee is evaluating our student admission program. I remain optimistic that the committee will find new technological approaches that will ensure the continued success of our program. Similarly, our Credentials Committee is continuously looking at ways to improve articling conditions. This is tricky. Can we give more credit to students who clerk? Some jurisdictions give 100 per cent credit for time spent clerking, but we only give 50 per cent. Should we consider giving credit for “summer articles”?
I am interested in hearing any ideas you have on access, or on the student admission program – and so are staff at the Law Society. Please send your comments and ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.