Federation of Law Societies reports to the Benchers

Michael Milani, QC,The Federation of Law Societies of Canada has seen a dramatic shift during the past few years in what it does and how it carries out business, the organization’s President Michael Milani, QC, told the Benchers at their July meeting.

“What was once a relatively loose affiliation … really has changed,” said Milani, who along with the Federation’s chief executive officer Jonathan Herman, presented a report on the Federation’s activities.

A partner at Regina’s McDougall Gauley, Milani was president of the Law Society of Saskatchewan in 2002 and has served as Saskatchewan’s representative to the Federation since 2003.

He said the change was the result of external pressures on the legal profession, such as attacks on the core values of the independence of the Bar and the independence of the judiciary.

“All law societies recognized that in some cases having a national, coordinating body advocating for the preservation of these fundamental pillars was to the benefit of all of us.”

In response to these external pressures, the Federation, which was founded in 1926, recently relocated its office from Montreal to Ottawa and hired Herman, the former chief of staff to then-justice minister Irwin Cottler, as the new chief executive officer to ensure better communication with the federal government. It also revamped its governance structure so each jurisdiction has a council member.

Herman said Canadian law societies are being watched closely around the world as we deal with issues involving international trade in services, competition policy and money laundering.

“What happens here matters to people in Paris, in Brussels, in Geneva and elsewhere,” he said.

Milani noted that the Federation’s foresight in negotiating a national mobility agreement several years ago will assist all law societies in responding to the federal competition bureau’s recently announced review of alleged anti-competitive practices in the professions.

He also highlighted the Federation’s pivotal role in the money laundering negotiations with the federal government and its work with the government on the World Trade Organization’s proposals to expand international trade in legal services.

“In all cases,” said Milani, “the point we have made with the regulators in the federal government is that we are regulating in the public interest and, therefore, our viewpoint coincides with that of the government.”

Other Federation initiatives include the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII), which provides free, online access to case law and statutes, a national model code of conduct, and a task force that is reviewing the core requirements for a law degree, as well as on-going advocacy work on behalf of the law societies.

“Every single one of these matters … could, in theory, be done by each individual law society,” he said. “But … a well-run, focused and effective organization, speaking with a consistent message from a national perspective, will stand a better chance of achieving results.”