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He’s ‘not afraid of making decisions’

|Written By Robert Todd

The next treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada says the profession is getting a leader who will build consensus from within Osgoode Hall, but won’t be afraid to speak out on important issues.

Derry Millar says paralegal regulation, articling, access to justice, and the retention of women in private practice are pressing areas he’ll tackle as treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada.

“I think it’s an important position, and I think that I have something to offer. And my colleagues decided that I did,” says Derry Millar, who Convocation heard last week is the next  treasurer. “The profession has been very good to me, and I’ve tried to give back to the profession, and this is another way of doing that.”

Millar, a partner at WeirFoulds LLP who practises civil litigation and administrative law, was acclaimed treasurer after being the only candidate to come forward by the May 8 deadline. He will assume the post June 26, when current Treasurer Gavin MacKenzie will end two-and-a-half-years in the position.

MacKenzie says the profession is fortunate to have Millar taking the lead at Convocation.

“Derry Millar and I have served together as benchers since 1995,” says MacKenzie, noting they were co-chairmen of a task force that produced new rules of professional conduct in 2002.

“We’re good friends. He’s thoughtful, patient, caring, and wise, and he’ll be an excellent treasurer,” says MacKenzie.

As treasurer, Millar will be the law society’s representative and preside as chairman of Convocation. An election for the position is held each year, and benchers vote when more than one candidate seeks the position.

The daily operations of the law society are directed by Chief Executive Officer Malcolm Heins.

Millar was called to the bar in 1974 and was elected a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers in 2001. He was lead counsel at the Ipperwash inquiry in 2003, and is in his fourth term as an elected bencher.

He has been chairman of the law society’s

finance committee since 2006, and was vice chairman of the equity and aboriginal issues committee from 2001 to 2003, along with a long list of other contributions to Convocation committees.

Millar describes himself as a consensus builder, but says he doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind.

“I’ve always, when I’ve been at Convocation, stated what my views were, and people can agree or disagree. It’s a little different role as treasurer, because when you take a public position, it’s authorized by Convocation. And as the treasurer at Convocation, I think my role is to come up with a coherent and consistent position. But I will make decisions if I have to. I’m not afraid of making decisions.”

Millar says he will get out of the law society’s offices and meet with members of the profession to see what’s going on in the trenches.

“I don’t intend to sit in Osgoode Hall and not go out and talk to the legal profession,” he says.

While Millar acknowledges that the profession is in good shape, he knows many challenges lay ahead. He lists paralegal regulation, articling, access to justice, and the retention of women in private practice as some of the most pressing areas he’ll tackle.

MacKenzie describes his tenure as treasurer as the highlight of his career. He notes that when his term ends, he will have presided over 23 Convocations, 21 call to the bar ceremonies, three Law Society Medal ceremonies, and three annual meetings.

He singles out the law society’s work during his term on making the profession more accommodating for women. He calls the just-passed recommendations in the report of the retention of women in private practice working group - which introduce pilot projects for a parental leave program and practice locum service - a “genuine breakthrough.”

He says the law society will continue to face challenges associated with regulation of paralegals, but adds that those growing pains are necessary.

“I continue to believe it’s in both the profession’s interest and the public’s interest that paralegals be regulated, and that they be regulated by the law society,” says MacKenzie. “We have the experience, and the expertise, and the infrastructure to do the job properly. And having a single regulator for the public avoids inconsistencies in standards and leaves no room for confusion about who’s accountable.”

The law society also must continue to take steps to deal with an influx of articling students, says MacKenzie. A surge in applicants from abroad is expected to put unprecedented pressures on the articling system in Ontario, with any economic downturn exacerbating the problem, he says. By 2009, there will be a few hundred more applicants for articling positions than there were in 2006, he says.

“I think the profession generally is opposed to abolishing articling. I’m personally opposed to abolishing articling. I think that lawyers who are just starting out benefit tremendously from the vast bulk of articling positions that we make available in Ontario. I think what we should be focusing on is whether there can be alternatives to articling that can serve the same purpose.”

MacKenzie says he’s excited to return full time to his litigation practice at Heenan Blaikie LLP, and that he’ll take with him a newfound respect for the profession, gained during his term as law society treasurer.

“It’s reinforced the respect I have for the lawyers of the province of Ontario,” he says.

A number of factors drew Millar to law society work.

He was a student at Dalhousie University law school, where he says a commitment to public service is entrenched. Before attending law school, Millar spent two years in South America volunteering with Canadian University Students Overseas, now known as CUSO. He says his Saskatchewan upbringing instilled social-democratic values that have guided him.

Millar says his firm also has shown a commitment to public service.

“As part of being a lawyer at the firm, you were exposed to many areas,” says Millar, who notes that he is the fourth member of the firm to become treasurer of LSUC.

“The firm has a long tradition of working with the profession, because it’s very important for lawyers to participate in the profession. The legal profession, and now with respect to paralegals . . . doesn’t run itself. People have to do it.”

Millar says he feels “honoured” to be selected by his colleagues for the position of treasurer.

“I look forward to working with members of Convocation, lawyers, and paralegals to improve how we serve the public,” he says. “Because after all, the whole purpose of regulation is in the public interest and to improve what we do for the public.”

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