This Week's Focus - Tabor on top of changes affecting the profession

Incoming Canadian Bar Association president Brian Tabor foresees major changes in the country's legal profession over the next 10 years, and he says it will be part of his job to help lawyers prepare for those changes.

Halifax lawyer Brian Tabor takes over the reins of the Canadian Bar Association this month.Everyone in the profession will be affected, Tabor said. In small-town and rural Canada, the consolidation and centralization of courthouses and registries will change the way sole practitioners work, while the globalization of trade and services will have a profound im-pact on large law firms.

At the same time, the human makeup of the profession will be transformed by the evolving demographics of Canadian society. Tabor wants to keep the CBA and its membership involved in thinking about the forces that are driving these changes, and he intends to lead the way in dealing with them.

Tabor practises commercial real estate law in Halifax with Cox Hanson O'Reilly Matheson, which he joined in 1987 and where he has been a partner since 1995. Tabor became a member of the CBA while still in law school and has been actively involved in association activities for most of his career.

"A couple of years into my practice here in Halifax I saw myself moving increasingly into the real estate area, so I joined the real estate section of the CBA in Nova Scotia and from there moved into the national executive for the real property section," he said.

He then came in as national real property section chair in 1995-96 and got a phone call one day in which he was asked to stand for nomination for the treasurer of the branch in Nova Scotia. He was also elected second national vice-president in 2003.

The national association — which represents 34,000 lawyers, law teachers, and law students across the country — has two major priorities, Tabor said. First on the agenda is the continuing work on the test case launched in British Columbia to establish a constitutional right to civil legal aid. The other key priority involves the issue of change in the profession, which Tabor believes is so critical.

"With that prompting, the CBA established a committee called the 'futures committee' to have a hard look at what we're doing, with a view to starting now, in 2005, some things that we could do as an association, things we need to do as a profession, to position us to respond to what we think will be the changes taking place by 2015," he said.

The futures report will be released at the CBA's annual conference in Vancouver in August, and will include analyses and recommendations, he says. The coming year will be spent "digesting" the report and its recommendations, he said.

In the longer term, one of the biggest issues facing the profession, Tabor believes, is "the real demographic shift going on in the profession — demographics on a number of levels. The older white guys are retiring and the more junior lawyers coming into the profession are predominantly female, maybe in the 55- to 60-per-cent range.

"So what's happening is that there's a proportionate increase of female and younger lawyers in the bar, and as our society's landscape changes in terms of more minorities coming to Canada, for all good reasons, we're seeing these individuals coming into the profession as well. So the face and colour of the profession are changing."

Tabor said he is looking forward to the coming year as the CBA national president.

"You go to a lot of places and meet a lot of people. On the international side, you try to illustrate to other jurisdictions the things that Canada is doing, and I think we're doing a lot of things right. And at the same time you bring information back. And at the local level, I'll be going around and just talking to lawyers and the public generally about the real difference that lawyers and the CBA make, in their individual practices and on a broader basis, enhancing and, I think, strengthening the social fabric in Canada."

Outgoing CBA president Susan McGrath of Iroquois Falls, Ont., told Law Times she enjoyed her tenure as president and is proud of the work the organization has accomplished in past year, especially the initiation of the legal aid test case litigation in June.

"It's the first time that the CBA has been a litigant and initiated an action," she says. "It's very important to the average citizen in Canada that we establish this constitutional right."

McGrath says that her stint as CBA president also afforded her experiences that she may not have otherwise had, one of the highlights being a trip to Auckland, New Zealand, to attend an International Bar Association conference in November 2004.

"It was really gratifying to be the president of the CBA and to discover how we're viewed as a leader in the world in these issues, in protecting the rights of individual citizens in our country. . . .

"To be in a position where you're able to talk to people who articulate how appreciative they are of what we've done in Canada and how they hold it up as a model."

She said she has already met the incoming American Bar Association president whose mandate is to improve access to justice and who was impressed by the CBA's test litigation.

"We do significant work here in Canada and we're recognized for it on the international scene," McGrath said.

Robert Patzelt, general counsel and group risk manager for Scotia Investments Ltd. in Halifax, is the incoming president of the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association.

The CCCA's number one priority, he said, "is to be a vibrant and successful organization providing the goods and services that corporate counsel really desire and need. The issues we're addressing are improving our penetration into the market, getting more and more lawyers to be members of the CBA and the CCCA, and better understanding ourselves."

The coming year will bring challenges, but Patzelt is confident the CCCA is equal to the task.

"It's a great organization with great volunteers participating in it. We're still a relatively new organization, compared to the rest of the bar, but the corporate counsel side of the profession has grown tremendously and we're growing with it.
"It's certainly an interesting time and very demanding, and the CCCA fulfils a very important role in helping in-house lawyers keep abreast of change and on top of their game."

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