2017 was a year of significant change for the Law Society. After 220 years, the Society changed its name to be more relevant to the people of Ontario. It also implemented initiatives to improve communications with the public, and to make the legal professions more equal, diverse and inclusive, including steps towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. The Law Society took important steps to improve access to justice and launched a comprehensive review of the lawyer licensing process.
Internally and externally, 2017 saw the Law Society changing for the better, laying a firm foundation to meet the complex needs of the future, and to ensure that it is prepared to take a leading role in facing the many challenges ahead.
Throughout my time as Treasurer, there are certain values I have applied to the Law Society’s programs and activities: enhance public and stakeholder engagement; ensure transparency of our operations and governance; promote equality and inclusion; and accountability. All of these values further our fundamental mandate to regulate the legal professions in the public interest. I am proud of what we have accomplished, and wish to thank all of the Benchers and the Law Society’s dedicated staff, led by CEO Diana Miles, for their hard work in achieving the results outlined in this Report.
Laying the groundwork for better engagement has been a key focus in 2017. The name change is the cornerstone of a larger engagement campaign that will start in 2018 to educate and inform the public about the Law Society’s role, facilitate referrals to legal professionals, and help people understand more about the legal professions.
In 2017 we began implementing the 13 recommendations from the Report, Working Together for Change: Strategies for Addressing Issues of Systemic Racism in the Legal Profession. The first two recommendations included the development of a Statement of Principles for all licensees, and a Human Rights/Diversity Policy for legal workplaces of 10 or more licensees.
Although there was much debate, both recommendations have been implemented and mark first steps in the Society’s ground-breaking work to address and eliminate racism and discrimination in the legal professions.
The Law Society has also been active on Indigenous issues, working with the Indigenous Advisory Group to adopt an Indigenous Framework to guide us in all our work. A Review Panel is examining our regulatory processes to make recommendations on improving how we address issues and complaints involving Indigenous Peoples, which will report in 2018.
A diverse and inclusive legal profession is in the public interest, and I am proud of the Law Society’s strong leadership on this issue.
The Law Society’s work over the last year has also focused on improving access to justice.
The Society’s Action Plan in response to the recommendations of the Family Legal Services Review conducted by Justice Annemarie Bonkalo, developed in partnership with the Ministry of the Attorney General, includes the development of a specialized license for paralegals, and others with appropriate training, to offer certain types of family law legal services. The Action Plan will also help identify areas and circumstances where people facing emotional issues and financial hardship can benefit from a strengthened provincial family law system with increased capacity and resources.
The Report of the Legal Aid Working Group has provided important direction on the Society’s re-engagement with legal aid in Ontario. The Law Society has also introduced measures that ensure protection of the public from unscrupulous advertising and referral practices and unreasonable fees. A number of significant rule changes were approved by Convocation, so that the public will benefit from mandatory disclosure about contingency fees, caps on referral fees, as well as many other related protection measures.
Unprecedented numbers of people are seeking to become lawyers in Ontario. It is critical, therefore, that our licensing process be fair, defensible and in the public interest. That’s why in 2017, we launched the Dialogue on Licensing to examine the realities, challenges and opportunities of the lawyer licensing system, including Articling and the Law Practice Programs. Defining the next chapter in licensing will be a challenge in the months ahead, but I am confident this process will lead to solutions with long-lasting impact.
In late 2017 a dedicated Policy Division was re-established to provide the Law Society, its Benchers and staff, with much-needed policy support to ensure we lead, well-informed and wisely, on the many challenges the legal professions face in the years ahead. Our Governance Task Force also continued to examine how we must change and improve our governance structure to ensure we are able to act efficiently and effectively in the public interest.
In June 2018, I will step down as Treasurer. It has been an honour and privilege to lead the Law Society over the last two years. I am proud of all that we have done and am confident that the changes we have made, and the initiatives that are underway, will serve the Society well in responding to the challenges ahead.