Toward more structured priority-setting and strategic planning
John J.L. Hunter, QC
At the conclusion of my last column I indicated that the Benchers would be meeting on February 29 to set their strategic priorities for the year and that I would report on those priorities in my next column. This is that report.
At the outset, I should indicate that with the assistance of our CEO, Tim McGee, the Benchers have adopted a new policy development model directed at setting annual strategic priorities early in the year and then appointing committees and task forces to carry out mandates consistent with those priorities. In the past our policy development has been a little haphazard — with the urgent often taking priority over the important — and we are hoping that this more structured method of priority-setting will produce better strategic planning and decisions.
With that objective in mind, at their February meeting the Benchers approved three strategic priorities for policy development in 2008.
The first of these is enhancing access to legal services. This is an issue for many groups, but the Law Society’s regulatory mandate charges our organization with a unique perspective. At our Benchers retreat in June we will be examining scope of practice issues with a view to considering whether the profession should re-examine its historic approach to the delivery of legal services by non-lawyers. In Ontario, the Law Society of Upper Canada is developing a regulatory regime for paralegals. We have been told that LSUC has been surprised at the numbers of paralegals applying to take advantage of the new regulatory scheme. We need to look more comprehensively at British Columbia’s present and possible providers of legal services to the public, and at our law society’s policy and strategic options for regulating these service providers.
There are a couple of additional issues on our radar screen in relation to access to legal services. The provincial government’s Civil Justice Reform Task Force is continuing its work on proposed reforms to the civil justice system. Last year the Law Society provided comments on the first report, but we have struck a small task force under the leadership of Joost Blom, QC to consider whether further input is advisable. In addition, the Benchers have established a distinguished task force under the chair of Kathryn Berge, QC to look into issues concerning the retention of women in our profession. Finally, we will be beginning our own analysis of the thorny issue of reducing financial barriers to accessing legal services.
This inquiry will no doubt take us down the path of discussing greater provision of pro bono services by lawyers, but will also pursue institutional efficiencies to reduce overall cost and to increase access.
The second strategic objective approved by the Benchers is enhancing public confidence in the legal profession and its self-regulation. One of the specific tasks will be to examine the Competition Bureau’s recent comments on the legal profession, with a view to determining whether regulatory changes should be introduced to deal with some of the issues identified, including advertising restrictions, restrictions on innovative business structures and other matters that might be characterized as having anti-competitive elements. On balance, we felt that, while the Competition Bureau report was not particularly critical of the regulation of our profession, it identified issues that should and will be addressed.
The third and final strategic objective approved by the Benchers is education — education of the public on issues relating to the law and the role of lawyers in the administration of justice, education of our members through our upcoming Continuing Professional Development program and education of the Benchers on important policy matters.
The Law Society’s activities in educating the public about the law and the role of lawyers have primarily come through public forums such as last year’s very successful Lawyers without Rights. This year, two such forums are planned. Voices on Youth Justice will deal with youth and the law and is scheduled for the evening of June 25 in Vancouver. This form of community outreach has been well received and has now been institutionalized in the Benchers’ priorities determination.
Another recent example of the Law Society’s more outward approach to public communications is an informative booklet called Considering a Career in Law? Produced by our Communications Department, this booklet can be viewed on the society’s website and has been made available to universities across Canada, to quite favourable reviews.
Education of our members is the focus of our Continuing Professional Development program, scheduled to begin next year. The details are being developed this spring by the Lawyer Education Advisory Committee under the leadership of Bruce LeRose, QC. We anticipate that the Benchers will be asked to approve new rules once the program has been settled. I will have more to report at that time.
Finally, the Benchers are conscious that their own education on policy issues requires continual upgrading. The intention is to devote a few of this year’s Bencher meetings to improving our knowledge base on specific policy issues, so that our decisions can be as informed as possible.
All of this deals with policy development, but performing, managing and administering the Law Society’s core regulatory functions remain the primary roles of Benchers and staff. Our credentials and professional conduct departments appear to be running smoothly, but we will continue to work on improvements to these core functions during the coming year. The trust assurance program has now been rolled out and Law Society auditors are in the field assisting members to comply with the trust account requirements.
That is the program for 2008. As always, we welcome comments from our members on our ongoing efforts to regulate the profession in the public interest.