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Running in time of crisis: Why standing for bencher is right move now | Derek Anderson

Friday, October 02, 2020 @ 12:40 PM | By Derek Anderson

Derek Anderson %>
Derek Anderson
It’s a very straightforward question: why would a lawyer, navigating a successful practice, decide that now is the time to make a public commitment to the profession and run for a position as law society bencher when there is so much incentive to simply put one’s head down and endure?

We are very much in the middle of a massive cultural disruption in which our ability, as lawyers, to manage the various external (international) crises is bound up with our ability to navigate our emergent internal professional developments. We need to take the nascent gains we’ve made in addressing access, equity and other professional issues and apply them to addressing the effects the various crises have imposed on us. This, in turn, has further highlighted the need for increased diversity in the profession, for alternatives to traditional types of professional licences, for articling system reforms and for greater emphasis on personal/professional/institutional wellness.

The old familiar personal, professional, procedural and substantive norms we used to rely on are not only no longer reliable — in many cases, they are no longer available or even desirable. As a result, new ways of navigating these changes, based largely on new and emergent values, are being explored — some with auspicious early results, (i.e.;  computer-facilitated remote meetings appearances, reflecting a revaluation of what an “appearance” is), and others that continue to require refinement (i.e.; electronic document authentication and management, reflecting a revaluation of what “authentic” means).

There must be an alignment of values we choose to emphasize. As we have lost many traditional and conventional guides, how we value and respond to our professional issues, including our ability to develop and retain new and fresh perspectives from within our privileged positions, will determine how the public responds to our attempts to help our clients, and the public at large, endure and thrive. 

This is very hard. In the absence of historical guides, our profession navigates change and novel situations very very very carefully. Looking instead to emergent and contemporaneous values and perspectives for guidance is understandably stressful for our profession and, potentially, for those who rely on our ability to lead. 

Some stresses are institutional: court relationships and procedures have had to embrace uncertainty and adjust to changing values while responding to limitations placed on it by the pandemic. Initially ad hoc, many new practices and procedures are still being refined while others have been abandoned, and the decisions as to what fates should be assigned to what changes can be, without convention as the determinative guide, and relying on still developing “new” values, difficult. 

Some stresses are cultural: reliance on custom and convention has tended to import greater deference to traditional values at the cost of “new” or “developing” values, and as a result has made us less than perfectly flexible and responsive to sudden fundamental changes that can’t be properly assessed or fully appreciated using traditional systems. In other words, our traditions have generally made it more difficult to identify, develop and act according to the new values that we now need to identify and rely on for guidance.

Some stresses are personal: different lawyers and different institutions cope with difficulty in different ways — some healthy, others decidedly not, and the degree to which we develop professional, personal and institutional wellness as a core value will affect both how the participants in the system, and subsequently the system itself develops and thrives.

So back to the question I posed out the outset: why run for bencher now?

Because I want to be present for the profession, for the crisis, and present for an alignment of values between the two. I want our profession to be diverse and flexible in our competencies and our responses and truly forgiving of the difficulties we will face along the way.

And I want to encourage new partners and stakeholders to be no less than our equals in this project, while also accepting that we might not be the best or even necessary leaders. 

Let’s go!

Derek Anderson is a highly experienced trial and appellate lawyer. He is a partner at BARR LLP in Edmonton, where he practises exclusively in the areas of criminal and human rights law. He tweets regularly on criminal law, human rights law and other issues @DerekCrimLaw. More information can be found at

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