With Law Society of Upper Canada Treasurer Thomas Conway’s term coming to an end this summer, a trio of benchers are in the running to become the next face of Ontario’s regulator of the legal profession.
The nominees for the law society’s highest elected office are benchers Raj Anand of WeirFoulds LLP, Janet Minor, general counsel at the Ministry of the Attorney General, and Christopher Bredt of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP. Their ideas range from plans to consider law firm regulation to addressing diversity issues within the legal community and better managing disciplinary matters involving lawyers with mental illnesses.
All candidates say doing more to improve access to justice is one of their top priorities.
For Bredt, who has been a member of Convocation since 2008, it’s time the law society achieves “solid” progress on access to justice.
“Speaking for myself, I will regard my treasurership as a failure if, during the course of my two years, there are not solid achievements that have been made on the access to justice front,” says Bredt, who says he will have an open door if he becomes treasurer.
Anand says the law society could be a facilitator that brings together people and organizations to work on access to justice issues but notes it can also play a role on its own through changes in areas like alternative business structures and the scope of paralegal practice.
Beyond the larger issues like access to justice, the candidates are calling for many other changes within the law society itself.
Disciplinary cases take too long to resolve, says Bredt. In addition to efficiency, he says the law society needs to look at mental health as an issue that deserves special attention.
“I think we can learn from how other professions are dealing with mental-health issues,” he adds.
“Within Convocation, we have some benchers who have expertise in this area and my inclination is to get a working group appointed, which would look at the issue and come back with recommendations.”
For Anand, part of being efficient in the disciplinary process involves making law firms do some of the work. The law society could either require or urge law firms to audit themselves in order to turn the existing complaint-based process into a more proactive one. It’s something Minor is also thinking about.
“Being proactive, not just reactive” is something the law society should strive for, she says. But Minor, who led the law society’s pathways project that saw the launch of the law practice program and changes to articling, also notes mentoring is “sorely needed” in many areas of the profession.
Candidates are also looking at how Convocation makes its decisions. Bredt and Anand say benchers should be in the loop about the work of Convocation committees instead of having to make tough calls through a vote once they’ve completed a project.
“Convocation needs to play a role and it needs to play a role early on as the issues develop,” says Bredt.
At times, benchers disagree with the path taken by committees after they’ve completed their work, according to Anand, who suggests a monthly reporting process that allows for more input from benchers.
Instead of having a particular proposal presented to benchers for approval, Anand says he would like to see Convocation presented with options.
Minor, who describes her leadership style as “decisive but reflective,” says the law society should also amend its timeline for setting priorities. At the beginning of their terms, benchers go on a retreat to set objectives. But at that time, newer benchers “aren’t always aware of the issues,” she says. “I think [setting priorities] a few months later would be more helpful.”
Before he became a bencher seven years ago, Anand, who previously served as chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, had been part of the law society’s equity advisory group. If elected as treasurer, he says he’ll work to address the unique barriers faced by lawyers and paralegals from different backgrounds.
“The public is entitled to a diverse bar; it’s entitled to a bar which more closely reflects its makeup,” says Anand.
He wants to win the top job of his merits but says that if he becomes treasurer, young minority lawyers will know “there are opportunities and that it is worthwhile striving for excellence.”
For Minor, inclusion of women and racial minorities into the law society’s governing body helps engage segments of the profession who feel sidelined. She says if she becomes treasurer, taking actions that “knock down barriers or minimize them at least” will be one of her priorities.
Convocation will elect the new treasurer in June.