Former Law Society of Upper Canada treasurer Tom Conway is back home in Ottawa after vacating the position for Janet Minor following last month’s vote at Convocation. He’s now about to become the president of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada in November. In an interview with Law Times, he takes a look back at his term as treasurer of the law society. Below is a slightly edited transcript of the interview.
From Day 1, the first Convocation, we passed a significant reform package. That’s our tribunal system overhaul and the appointment of a permanent chair. Now that reform had been underway for quite some time but that got passed on my first day. Then we had the law practice program and the articling task force debate that occurred. You know, that was significant. The last time Convocation had looked seriously at reforming our articling system was in the ‘70s and nothing happened. So that was a very, very significant change.
We implemented continuing professional development, which was something that was underway under [former treasurer] Derry Millar’s watch. Again, it’s the kind of thing that 15 years ago, it would have been almost impossible to do. And now the profession has an obligation to keep itself up to date and current.
Of your achievements as treasurer, what are you most proud of?
I’d have to say the access to justice initiative, the treasurer’s advisory group on access to justice. Now the law society has reoriented its focus to what I call our third pillar of regulation. We do competence, discipline, and access to justice. My view was that the law society could play a very important role in facilitating improvements in access to justice and what was interesting is that that view was largely shared. We’ve sort of built the platform now and I hope that people will start to build on it.
What has been the biggest challenge?
The most challenging part on a personal basis was just the travelling and being away from home. That’s really, really tough. You don’t realize until you get to the end and you wake up one day and you just feel like you’ve just been through a meat grinder. Especially for a treasurer outside of Toronto, I think it takes a bit of a toll.
But I think probably the most difficult issue I’ve had to deal with as treasurer was the Trinity Western [accreditation] application. The other thing would have to be the yellow journalistic piece that the Toronto Star did.* But the most difficult issue for Convocation was the Trinity Western application. That was difficult for many benchers. It’s not very often that a law society deals with an issue that takes on a national prominence.
What will you miss most about the job?
Well, you know, the people. I’m going to miss the benchers, who are by and large some of the best and the brightest lawyers and paralegals in the province. I’m going to miss their company an awful lot. And I’m going to miss the staff. The staff in the treasurer’s office and their work throughout the law society is really, really impressive. I don’t think they get as much recognition as they should. . . . And I’m going to miss Toronto. It’s a great, vibrant city. I’m going to miss Toronto a lot.
What do you know now about Ontario’s legal profession that you wouldn’t have known had you not been the treasurer of the law society?
I knew intellectually that we have a diverse profession in the province but I didn’t really appreciate how diverse it actually is. I think the greatest experience about being a treasurer, at least for me, was meeting lawyers and paralegals throughout the province and talking to them about what’s important to them and their communities and it’s really amazing how diverse the profession is.
The problems and the concerns that affect people in the [Greater Toronto Area], for example, are really very different from the issues that other parts of the province consider to be important.
They’ve got a different view of what the access to justice problems are, for example. What was amazing to me is actually how we’re able to regulate this diverse crowd of lawyers and paralegals.
So I think that’s going to be a challenge because you know, we’re not professions anymore that have a singular view on issues. It’s hard to say with any certainty anymore what the profession will think about a particular issue.
What do you think of Janet Minor and the kind of leader she will be?
Janet, and the other two candidates who ran in the treasurer’s election, I worked very closely with all three of them and I think the law society would have been in very good hands under any of them. But Janet obviously won the confidence of Convocation and I’m not at all surprised. I leaned on Janet quite a bit as the treasurer. She was the chair of the professional development and competence committee and she was responsible for implementing the recommendations of the articling task force that Convocation passed, so I leaned on her quite heavily.
What I think about Janet? First of all, she’s highly intelligent; she’s very experienced. She always brought a certain sensibility to issues that was always a perspective I thought was important to have at the table. She’s a really good listener and she’s also someone who’s a collaborator in a sense that she can work well with people, she can reach compromise. She’s not dictatorial. These are all great qualities in a treasurer. I think you’ll see Janet working like she always has, which is to build consensus on issues. And I think she’s going to be just terrific.
(For her part, Minor says her immediate priorities are to “maintain and enhance” the public’s confidence in the law society as well as increase “the inclusiveness of members in the profession.” She also says improving access to justice will continue to be a major ongoing priority. “We need to ensure an integrated approach to access to justice internally — as well as a dynamic approach with our stakeholders and other external organizations,” she says.)
* In May, the Star published an article that characterized the law society as a toothless watchdog for not reporting lawyers to police when they engage in criminal behaviour.