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Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC) president Craig Ferris

B.C. law society adopts strategic plan emphasizing innovation, improving access to justice

Tuesday, December 08, 2020 @ 9:23 AM | By Ian Burns

As an eventful 2020 draws to a close, the Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC) has adopted a plan which sets its goals for the next five years.

Benchers approved the law society’s strategic plan for 2021-2025 at their Dec. 4 meeting. The plan lays out five key strategic directions for the LSBC going forward: leading as an innovative regulator; working further towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples; taking action to improve access to justice; promoting a profession which reflects the diversity of the profession; and increasing confidence in the law society, the administration of justice and the rule of law. Within those broad themes a number of more concrete objectives and initiatives is outlined.

Law society CEO Don Avison called the two-page plan “deceptive.”

“It is deceptive in the sense it looks elegantly small but when you have a closer look at it, it really contemplates an extraordinary amount of activity that would take place over five years,” he said.

The document was amended to add concrete language that the law society should advocate for greater access to non-adversarial dispute resolution in family law matters and support the principles outlined in B.C.’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act and the continued implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In addition to the strategic plan, benchers also adopted an access to justice vision for the law society, which calls for it to reduce or remove barriers which are within the law society’s control, understand the nature of the barriers that lie outside its authority and whether it has a role to play in overcoming those barriers, applying Access to Justice B.C.’s Triple Aim measurement framework while developing policy, analyzing available data to take an objective approach in developing strategies and listening to a diversity of perspectives on why some groups face barriers in accessing justice.

Michelle Stanford, chair of the LSBC’s access to justice advisory committee, said the law society plays an important role in reducing barriers and enhancing meaningful access in British Columbia.

“[The vision] defines meaningful access to justice as providing an essential service that in turn also sustains the rule of law, and specifically this means that our justice system and the legal services that support them are available, affordable, understandable and effective,” she said.

LSBC president Craig Ferris

Benchers also endorsed a plan to have the law society’s executive committee review a report on its standards of governance as well as potentially bringing in an independent evaluator to assess its standards. Governance committee chair Lisa Hamilton said she is satisfied the LSBC generally meets accepted governance standards but there is some opportunity for improvement.

“[The committee] suggested that one of the things we should be doing to remain relevant and innovative and practical is to review on an ongoing basis whether our regulations are proportionate and whether our standards for lawyers are relevant, practical and understandable,” she said. “It seems there is a perception that new rules keep getting added, so it may be time to look at all of them as whole and whether they are doing the right thing and getting the right outcomes.”

The meeting was also the last to be presided over by president Craig Ferris, who will pass the torch to current first vice-president Dean Lawton in January. Ferris reflected on an eventful 2020 shaped by the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic and offered some thoughts for the law society’s future. He noted the practice of law has changed fundamentally over the past 50 years.

“The narrow band of practice has become an elongated and very thin strip which lightly attaches to us all, but our rules still apply universally,” he said. “I would encourage you to re-evaluate this — if we are truly a risk-based regulator, we need to look at the rules based on risk and determine whether proportional applications of them should be made.”

And benchers need to look at themselves and ask if they are the correct people to do the job, said Ferris.

“Election of lawyers based on population has provided us with a history of geographic diversity around the table, but not much else,” he said. “I don’t know wat the right answer is, but I think the benchers need to ask whether this is the best way to populate the bencher table and whether it allows for a diversity of views and allows us to have a skills-based bencher table.”

In addition to Lawton taking over as president, Lisa Hamilton will take over as first vice-president and Christopher McPherson will become second vice-president in the new year.

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