Thomas Conway admits he has “big shoes to fill” but says he’s ready to tackle the budget in his new role as treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada.
“I think this Convocation has been particularly vocal about wanting to focus on improving the law society’s commitment to its core responsibilities, particularly in light of these challenging economic times,” says Conway.
“They want to ensure law society dues are spent judiciously and wisely and I intend to carry that forward. I hope to listen very closely to Convocation to find ways that I might be able to help ensure members’ money is being invested well while always keeping the public’s interests in mind.”
Benchers elected Conway, a partner at Cavanagh Williams Conway Baxter LLP and a bencher since 2007, as treasurer this month in an unopposed vote following the close of nominations May 3.
He’ll begin his term as the law society’s top elected official after Convocation proceedings on June 28. He’ll replace current Treasurer Laurie Pawlitza.
Some law society benchers say they hope Conway will take a closer look at the budget in his new post, particularly when it comes to membership fees.
“I think we really need to look at our expenses and see if we’re not overexerting ourselves,” says Alan Silverstein, a law society bencher and real estate lawyer in Thornhill, Ont.
“I think at times we have a tendency to go over our budget and overall I think we need to be a little more cognizant of our revenue. I hope those are things that Tom will be able to do, especially as everyone becomes more and more cost-conscious.”
Still, Silverstein is optimistic that Conway’s legal background and past work with the law society will allow him to tackle those tough financial issues.
“Cream rises to the top,” says Silverstein. “He has a wonderful ability to broach different topics with a great attention to detail and positive attitude that brings everyone together. He’s done a lot for the law society over the years and I think he’ll do a great job.”
In the past, Conway has served as president of the County of Carleton Law Association and adjunct law professor at the University of Ottawa.
He has also been chairman of the LSUC’s professional development and competence committee and co-chairman of the retention of women in private practice working group. In addition, he has the high-profile role of chairman of the law society’s articling task force.
Conway says his experience as a commercial litigator and personal commitment to issues such as articling and the retention of women in private practice will help him reach his goals as treasurer.
“I certainly intend to continue the very important work of those programs and I will see them through to the end. Certainly, if the articling task force makes recommendations and Convocation accepts them, I’ll be intent on ensuring articling reforms are implemented in a timely way.
That being said, a work plan has already been put forth and I know one of Convocation’s priorities will also be looking at ways we can invest money more wisely.”
Conway notes he doesn’t have a specific plan yet for possible spending cuts at the law society. However, benchers had several opportunities to hear about Conway’s ideas in private prior to the close of nominations this month.
Silverstein says that after a brief discussion among benchers about Conway and his ability to lead the law society, “it wasn’t much of a race after that.”
“I think once people realized what a logical choice Tom was, everyone became extremely optimistic and knew he could do a good job.”
Paul Copeland, a Toronto human rights lawyer, says that apart from some light ribbing by fellow benchers about the regulator “not receiving their papers,” most agreed Conway’s experience made him the right person for the job.
“I look for a progressive view on things in a treasurer and Tom certainly isn’t reactionary,” says Copeland. “It seems like a good fit.”
For now, a packed agenda is likely to keep Conway busy.
“He has demonstrated characteristics that I feel are important to have to be the leader of the profession in Ontario,” says Vern Krishna, a former law society treasurer and tax counsel at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP.
“He is an incredible worker, as he demonstrated in his work with the articling task force, which is very demanding and time-consuming. He has shown he is very dedicated and responsible. His agenda is likely full of important initiatives with articling surely to become a very high priority.”
Krishna, who taught Conway tax law at the University of Ottawa in the 1980s, echoes the hope that Conway will focus on the law society’s budget in his new role.
“Internally, I think we need to look at our cost structures and finances to see how we can better use our resources more effectively,” he says.
“I hope Tom has the time to do so.”
Paul Schabas, a law society bencher and lawyer at Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP, says Conway’s strong work ethic should help him in his new role.
“He has worked extremely hard as a bencher and I think his leadership on the articling task force demonstrates his competence and commitment to the law society,” says Schabas. “He takes on tasks and gets them done, which is important for the law society.”