Howard Kushner new Chief Legal Officer

Howard KushnerThe Law Society is pleased to welcome Howard Kushner as its new Chief Legal Officer.

Howard is an experienced lawyer and legal executive who served as Ombudsman for the Province of BC for the past seven years.

As Chief Legal Officer — a newly created role at the Law Society — Howard will oversee all the Law Society’s regulatory programs, including complaint resolution, investigations, discipline, custodianships and the Special Compensation Fund, as well the Society’s Policy and Legal Services division.

“I am responsible for ensuring the complaints process is dealing with complainants and members in a fair fashion,” Howard explained, “and that’s partly what I’ve been doing for the past seven years in the Ombudsman’s office.”

BC’s new Ombudsman, Kim S. Carter, has high praise for Howard’s work. In the Ombudman’s 2005 annual report, she recognized Howard’s leadership and creative management in guiding the Ombudsman’s office through a time of budgetary constraints. She also noted Howard convinced the government to increase the Ombudsman’s budget so the office could investigate more complaints.

“Howard has left an organization that is in remarkable shape given the nature and speed of the changes it has undergone,” Ombudsman Carter wrote in the annual report. “It is clear that his focus on recruitment, training, performance standards and service to individual complainants provides a solid base from which to move forward.”

Innovations Howard introduced to ensure the Ombudsman was able to meet the needs of British Columbians included a mobile intake office that could be set up anywhere to process complaints and an annual Ombudsman’s “road show.” Those innovations saw Howard and his staff visit communities outside the major urban centres, such as Terrace, Dawson Creek and Hudson’s Hope.

“It was an opportunity for me to get out into the smaller centres and to make sure people were aware of the Ombudsman’s office and of the services we offered.”

In 2005, Howard’s last full year as Ombudsman, his staff of 31 handled more than 7,600 intakes — 5,500 complaints and 2,100 requests for information. Although the vast majority of complaints involved the provincial government and Crown corporations, Howard says the government never once refused his recommendations during his seven years in office.

“The effectiveness of the Ombudsman’s office was demonstrated by the very fact that we had positive outcomes to our investigations and positive responses from authorities,” he said.

Born and raised in Edmonton, Howard graduated from the University of Alberta in 1972 with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree in mathematics, then attended the University of Toronto law school. After articles and a year practising with the Alberta Justice Department, he took a leave of absence to obtain an LL.M. from the London School of Economics, University of London.

Following another year at Alberta Justice, he joined the law faculty at UBC teaching constitutional law, administrative law, municipal law and corporate law. Anyone who attended UBC during Howard’s era will remember the red, white and blue plaid sports jacket he traditionally wore on the last day of school (and which he still owns and has worn to Ombudsman Office Christmas parties).

In 1986, Howard returned to the Alberta Justice Department where he held a number of senior legal and management positions, including acting as special adviser to the Premier in the historic Meech Lake negotiations at Ottawa in June 1990.

Howard also served from 1996 to 1999 as Director of Legal Services for the Yukon government.

Joining the Law Society is an opportunity to serve both the profession and public and the “culmination of my career,” says Howard. “I’m proud to be a lawyer, and I think the Law Society plays an important role in ensuring that lawyers are acting in an appropriate fashion and that the public is being well served.”

And while he’s only been on the job a short time, Howard says he’s already encouraged by the “overwhelmingly positive attitude” of Law Society staff and their commitment to “ensuring the public interest is protected.”