Bencher retreat focuses on the future

The Benchers’ annual retreat is an opportunity for the Law Society’s 31 governors to focus on long-term planning, strategic policies and key initiatives that require more time for analysis and discussion than is available at the Benchers’ regular meetings.

It is also an opportunity to take the Law Society outside Vancouver so Benchers and senior staff can meet with local lawyers and ensure their views are heard.

This year’s retreat — held in Campbell River and led by First Vice-President John Hunter, QC — explored the role of the Law Society in light of BC’s changing economy, demographics and labour market, as well as recent developments in professional regulation.

The discussion, which included a presentation by Jock Finlayson, executive vice-president of the Business Council of BC, was designed to assist the Benchers in developing the Law Society’s 2008 – 2010 strategic plan later this year.

Hunter said the Law Society’s regulatory focus will always be on the traditional core areas of admissions, ethics and discipline, but that it is important to consider whether the society should be pursuing some non-traditional activities in the future.

“The province is changing, the profession is changing, and there have been a number of developments in legal regulation since the last strategic plan was adopted,” he explained.

One of the most influential and controversial developments in legal regulation is the Clementi Report released by the UK government in 2004. It recommended an expanded role for legal regulators, including public legal education and support for consumer interests.

In Canada, recent developments include the changing role of the Federation of Law Societies as a national and international voice for legal regulators. In addition, provincial law societies are wrestling with fragmentation of the profession (firm size as well as the urban-rural divide), access to justice and the cost of legal services.

The Benchers debated these and other topics at length as they begin setting strategic priorities for the coming years.

“The purpose of the retreat,” said Hunter, “is to take the long-term context presented by Jock Finlayson, telescope it down into the three years of our strategic plan and then narrow it into our profession and our regulatory mandate. We’re not here to come up with conclusions or resolutions, but to make sure we’re considering all the options.”

Past Retreats

Bencher retreats are often the beginning of long-term projects that have significant importance in the regulation of the legal profession. Highlights of past retreats include:

1990 Bencher workload

  • Beginning of reforms to the Law Society’s governance structure. Also led to hiring practice advisors.

1993 Perspectives on racism

  • Established the Multiculturalism Committee (now part of the Equity and Diversity Committee).

1994 Board governance

  • Development of a policy-based governance model for the Benchers.

1998 The future of the legal profession

  • Initial discussion of the Law Society’s first strategic plan.

2002 Admission program reform and enhancement

  • Changes to the articling program.

2004 Improving trust assurance post-Wirick

  • Development of the Trust Assurance Program.

2005 Small firm practice

  • Development of the award-winning Small Firm Practice Course (see page 14).

2006 Government relations

  • Analysis of ways in which the Law Society can work with government to improve the justice system

Finlayson’s presentation

Jock Finlayson, executive vice-president of the Business Council of BC, provided the context for the Benchers’ retreat with a long-range look at BC’s economic prospects, changing demographics and future business trends.

Broad trends affecting the legal profession:


  • Local economies are increasingly affected by external trade and investment flows.
  • Globalization of practice pursuant to clients’ needs and steady growth of international business activity.
  • International negotiations (WTO/GATS) aimed at reducing barriers to trade in services and foreign provision of services in domestic markets.

Advances in technology

  • Facilitates commidification of routine work.
  • Lowers the cost of communication, information exchange and research.
  • Off-shoring of certain legal services.

Industry consolidation

  • Many industries are witnessing the emergence of a small number of predominant, global-scale competitors (e.g., automobile manufacturing, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, IT products, investment banking, etc.).
  • Fewer Canadian/BC-owned firms are significant players in local markets.
  • Less consolidation in “non-traded” industry sectors.

Financial markets rule

  • Growing pressure for returns on capital are being pushed by demographics and globalization of capital markets.
  • Low interest rates and low cost of capital are fuelling the growth of private equity which results in fewer large, public companies (but most firms taken private will likely become public again in a few years’ time).
  • Profits are near a record high as a percentage of GDP.