Bookended by one of the most diverse convocations assembled following the 2015 spring bencher election, and the beginning of a major philosophical change with the installment of a new, majority Liberal federal government this fall, 2015 proved to be a time of significant change and growth for the Law Society of Upper Canada.
Looking back on the legal regulator’s successes and struggles in 2015, LSUC Treasurer Janet Minor says collaboration and proactive strategies kept the organization moving forward in dealing with a number of hefty issues.
“Overall, last year was a very positive year in terms of engagement, collaboration, and we had the bencher election with a number of new benchers who are all very enthusiastic and who have given us increased diversity at the same time,” Minor says. “It’s a new energy that’s being brought to convocation and I think that will become more evident as we deal with some of our initiatives in the upcoming year.”
She says the LSUC began and continued a number of initiatives that she categorized as being proactive in protecting the public right to access to justice and in supporting the well-being of its membership. She says one of the most important of those was the continuing work addressing challenges for racialized licensees.
“It’s been a very extensive initiative,” she explains, adding an interim report was given to convocation earlier in 2015 based on a wide consultation process and will be a key focus heading into 2016. “We had such a positive and helpful response that in fact I think it’s taken our working group a little longer than they anticipated to deal with it and really enrich the proposed initiatives they will be bringing forward.
“That is a priority of mine, but you can’t just wave a wand and have something happen instantly when we’ve had such an excellent response from the profession,” Minor says, adding that a final report on racialized licensees is expected in the first quarter of the new year.
Another of Minor’s priorities for convocation will be “a renewed indigenous strategy.”
“I call it renewed because we have always considered the indigenous issues as part of our mandate and responsibility, but I think we have renewed it in a more enhanced fashion,” she says, adding previously convocation focused more on educating its membership “and that’s a very necessary component, but we realized we needed to extend it beyond our lawyers and paralegals to indigenous leadership and the community and that’s been a top priority.”
Minor visited several First Nations communities in 2015 to see first-hand how the issues of poverty and lack of access to justice are plaguing those areas. She adds that indigenous political leadership was invited to Osgoode Hall in mid-2015 “and it was, we understand, the first time that the political leadership had been invited to Osgoode Hall in 200 years, so it was a very important symbolic meeting.”
Minor says she will have more personal meetings with Metis groups shortly after the new year to better gauge their unique and primary concerns. She adds that a certified specialist program in aboriginal law is expected to be complete by the fall of 2016.
“I think the Law Society has a very important responsibility to further the Truth and Reconciliation process, not just with issues involving residential schools but dealing with the whole history of what I would call a failure of the justice system with our aboriginal communities,” Minor says.
Another first-time initiative Minor was pleased to see the LSUC take on in 2015 was the establishment of a new human rights award that will be presented every two years.
The LSUC also enhanced its French language services in 2015, increasing the number of presentations it makes in the nation’s second official language.
To support its members’ well-being, Minor says the LSUC made solid gains by starting a mental health initiative in September 2015 to support those professionals dealing with issues such as depression or addiction. She says this will be built on with the implementation of a new task force working to develop a more comprehensive strategy with a final report likely coming to Convocation in spring of 2016.
On the regulatory front for 2015, Minor says a working group established in June is making headway creating a consultation report for shortly into the new year on compliance-based regulation and entity regulation.
“I think compliance-based regulation is something that could be very helpful to the public and the profession because in other jurisdictions, when it’s been adopted, it has probably reduced complaints because the idea is to prevent them rather than just responding to problems when they happen through the complaint process,” Minor says. “That [working group] is also looking at the desirability of regulating entities in order to have a systemic approach to preventing ethical problems.”
Minor is also proud of the establishment of the early career roundtable, bringing young legal professionals together to discuss any and all issues so their voices can be added to the creation of policy and new programs, and to address issues such as a lack of mentoring opportunities. She says it’s a program that has been very well received and one that will continue into the new year.
“The early career roundtable is really an advisory group, so I would foresee their contributions, through advice, being incorporated into some of our policy,” she says. “For example, one of their main concerns at the first meeting was the discussion around mentoring and that’s another initiative we are expecting to come forward with proposals for Convocation from our mentoring task force early in the new year.”
Along with the philosophical and policy advancements, the LSUC also made some physical changes in 2015, moving the tribunal hearing facilities out of Osgoode Hall and into its own, independent surroundings. Minor says this was a major change that “emphasizes the tribunal’s distinct identity and provided a more professional atmosphere in many ways for counsel and the public who are appearing there.”
Looking further ahead into 2016, Minor says other issues Convocation will likely delve deeper into will revolve around legal advertising regulation and greater enhancing paralegal education and testing levels.
“I’m just very happy that we’ve managed to engage as much as we have and have as many important initiatives underway, hopefully coming to conclusion shortly,” Minor says.