It is my privilege to present the Law Society’s 2016 Annual Report. You will find reflected here the real progress we have made in supporting the five strategic priorities for the 2015-2019 term, established by Convocation, our governing board.
Those priorities are: to lead as a professional regulator; to engage stakeholders and the public with responsive communications; to increase organizational effectiveness; to enhance professional competence; and to increase access to justice across Ontario. You will find highlights below, and more details in the Annual Report itself as well as on our website.
The Law Society is committed to leading change to ensure that the professions are diverse, inclusive, and forward thinking. A major step towards creating this change was taken in December, when Convocation approved the Final Report by the Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees Working Group. The culmination of thorough study and province-wide consultation, this report contains a set of robust recommendations designed to address issues of systemic racism in the legal professions.
A long-term Mental Health Strategy was approved by Convocation in April 2016. We want to improve access to appropriate resources for lawyers and paralegals and their families who are facing mental illness and addiction issues. The strategy also suggests we examine how mental illness and addiction issues are most appropriately addressed in our regulatory context. Convocation’s Mental Health Strategy Implementation Task Force is monitoring the roll out of the various components of the strategy.
Licensees’ advertising and fee arrangements have been the subject of review and analysis by a Working Group of the Professional Regulation Committee created in 2016. The review included a series of focus groups with practitioners and stakeholders and consultation with the public and the professions. Early in 2017, Convocation moved to limit referral fees and strengthen advertising rules. The Working Group continues to consider related issues such as contingency fees and advertising and fees in real estate.
The Law Society is undertaking a comprehensive communications strategy to raise the public’s awareness around access and help for legal issues; build understanding of the role of lawyers and paralegals; and how we serve the public within the justice system. This strategy, rolling out in 2017, will look at how we can enhance the profile of the Law Society and the professions across the diverse communities of Ontario.
A key part of the Law Society’s continued efforts to increase access to justice for Indigenous peoples in Ontario is the development of an Indigenous framework. A crucial component of this framework will be our response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.
We are honoured to be guided by our partnership with the Indigenous Advisory Group, whose members include legal professionals and Elders from First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities. We have a number of new and ongoing Indigenous initiatives to support lawyers and paralegals in this area, and were especially pleased to launch Canada’s first Certified Specialization in Indigenous Legal Issues in 2016.
There are now free legal resources in First Nation languages available from the Law Society. We worked in collaboration with Indigenous advisors to produce a quick reference legal guide and two fact sheets in Cree, Oji-Cree and Northwestern Ojibwe, in addition to English and French. These resources provide information about Law Society services and sources of free and low-cost legal information and were created to support Indigenous people who are facing legal issues.
As Treasurer, I am deeply committed to enhancing transparency and efficiency in the governance of the Law Society. To meet this goal, my first step was to issue public memoranda to each of Convocation’s standing committees that outline the committee’s mandate and how it fits within the Law Society’s strategic priorities. This is key to improving Convocation’s focus and accountability while bringing more transparency to our processes.
At my request, Convocation established the Governance Task Force in 2016 to examine the Law Society’s current governance structure. I look forward to reviewing the Task Force’s recommendations on how we might improve our governance processes and achieve greater effectiveness and efficiency as a governing body.
I am extremely proud that we launched the Coach and Advisor Network (CAN) in November 2016. CAN provides short-term Advisors and longer-term Coaches to foster best practices throughout the professions. Participants increase their competence and confidence and Coaches and Advisors realize opportunities to learn and hone their own skills.
Following the 2016 review of the Pathways Pilot Project, Convocation announced a province-wide Dialogue on Licensing, to take place across the province in early 2017 as the first phase of review. The goal is to formulate long-term recommendations for an appropriate, sustainable lawyer licensing system. We invite you to join the dialogue and provide your input around four topics: The Need for Change; Market Dynamics and the Lawyer Profession; Licensing Examinations: Assessment of Entry-level Competence; and Transitional Training.
The Action Group on Access to Justice (TAG) was established by the Law Society in 2015, with funding from the Law Foundation of Ontario, to facilitate better coordination and collaboration across the justice sector. In 2016, TAG launched Ontario’s inaugural Access to Justice Week. The week’s events focused on key access to justice issues including technology, public legal education and child welfare. TAG was also nominated, in 2016, for two legal access awards from the American Bar Association for its engagement work with rural and remote librarians.
In 2016, I committed to elevating the Law Society’s involvement in the legal aid discussion in Ontario by forming a Legal Aid Working Group. The Working Group is engaging with justice and community allies, exploring opportunities for robust and sustainable legal aid services for Ontarians. A well-funded Legal Aid system is critical in ensuring access to justice for low-income Ontarians.
I encourage you to look through our Annual Report for 2016. It was an eventful year at the Law Society, and I am proud of the advances we made. They will provide a strong foundation for our continuing pursuit of excellence in 2017.
It is through the efforts of our benchers, Law Society staff, and the many people I’ve had the honour to work with, that we are able to advance our mandate. Looking ahead, I am confident in our ability to regulate the professions in the public interest and ensure lawyers and paralegals are well-equipped to serve the evolving legal needs of all Ontarians.
Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.