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LSO treasurer Teresa Donnelly

LSO welcomes new professionals after transformational, difficult year

Friday, December 11, 2020 @ 8:52 AM | By Ian Burns

Lawyers and paralegals in Ontario who began their careers this year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic have now been officially welcomed to their professions, capping a year which saw unprecedented change not only for new licensees but the justice system as a whole.

The Law Society of Ontario (LSO)’s usual call to the bar ceremonies and welcome receptions were scuppered this year thanks to the pandemic, but new licensees were honoured during the virtual “Welcome to the Professions” celebration put on by the law society Dec. 9. The ceremony began with a blessing from Elder Myeengun Henry of the Chippewa of the Thames First Nation and contained words of support from LSO treasurer Teresa Donnelly, Ontario Chief Justice George Strathy and Justice Paul Rouleau of the Ontario Court of Appeal.

LSO treasurer Teresa Donnelly

Donnelly said she would have preferred to speak to all the new licensees in person, but added it was important to recognize their achievements in the face of unusual and challenging times.

“The legal professions are steeped in a long, rich history and I think we can all agree you have earned a special place in the history books which will undoubtedly celebrate the qualities and attributes that you have had to draw on to embark on your legal career during the pandemic,” she said. “Resilience is a character trait that has long been valued by members of the legal professions, and you as our newest members have demonstrated and embraced this attitude with grace and fortitude — characteristics which will continue to serve you throughout your career.”

A total of 2,177 lawyer candidates have been administratively licensed since March, with 625 paralegal candidates also joining the profession during the same time period. Chief Justice Strathy said they should be particularly proud of reaching this point due to the tumultuous times caused by the pandemic. He called 2020 the most transformational year he has ever witnessed.

“We have all been forced to rapidly adapt our methods of work and this has changed the way we practise law, and while these changes have been difficult, they have also been beneficial in many ways,” he said. “Historically the legal profession has been slow to adapt, but for those of you who embrace the change it will be an exciting time to enter the profession. Not only will you be part of this change but I expect more senior practitioners will look to you for more help and advice as we look to navigate new waters.”

Chief Justice George Strathy

And the technological change in the justice system seen in 2020 has been coupled with profound social changes that will affect the future of the profession, said Chief Justice Strathy.

“Over the past many months, we have seen the rise of a global movement addressing issues of racial and social inequality. This too is creating opportunities for reflection and change, and these movements are particularly germane to the profession you are entering,” he said. “There are many who justifiably feel our legal system is not serving them or their communities and in some instances is unfairly targeting them. These concerns are not new, but you are entering a profession at a time when these issues are increasingly recognized and the public is demanding change from our legal institutions.”

Priya Bhatia, the LSO’s executive director of professional development and competence, said “it goes without saying” that newly licensed lawyers and paralegals have gone through a difficult journey to get where they are today. A second welcome event was held Dec. 10.

“The law society has always honoured that journey with call to the bar ceremonies and welcome receptions, and an online environment allows you to do things differently,” she said in an interview with The Lawyer’s Daily. “We saw this as an opportunity to actually pivot what we would normally do, which would be to gather and allow that celebration to happen in a new modality which allows us to welcome and to convene in a new way. It is more important now than ever to give that welcome to a group of new licensees who may be feeling less connected and more challenged as they start their careers.”

The LSO is doing its events online and learning from those experiences, said Bhatia.

“We rolled up our sleeves, we got creative, and we thought about what a candidate or new licensee would be expecting and what they need to hear from us because when you do these sort of things online it is not generally the chance to replicate what you would normally do in person,” she said. “You have to really focus the messages and the virtual welcome on what is most important.”

The LSO also held a virtual reception Dec. 8 to honour the recipients of the 2020 Law Society Awards. More information can be found here.

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