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Leah Kosokowsky, CEO of the Law Society of Manitoba

New law society boss prepares for post-pandemic future

Tuesday, February 23, 2021 @ 9:32 AM | By Terry Davidson

New Law Society of Manitoba chief executive officer Leah Kosokowsky has been handed the baton of leadership during unprecedented times for the regulator.

In a recent interview with The Lawyer’s Daily, Kosokowsky talked of the road going forward as the Law Society of Manitoba (LSM) continues its efforts to navigate the social and economic impacts of COVID-19, as well the need for the society to keep an eye on a stalled legislative bid to expand the roles of paralegals and other non-lawyer practitioners in the province. 

 Law Society of Manitoba chief executive officer Leah Kosokowsky

Law Society of Manitoba CEO Leah Kosokowsky

A staffer with the LSM for more than two decades, Kosokowsky officially took the helm Jan. 18, stepping into the big boots of veteran Kris Dangerfield, who retired after 23 years with the regulator — including the past six as chief.

Like many of its counterparts across the country, the LSM shut its doors in March 2020 in response to widespread shutdowns due to the pandemic. In what has since become the norm for many Canadian professionals, staff began working from home and dealing with its lawyers and the public remotely.

Apropos of this, Kosokowsky said a big challenge has been the loss of social interaction.

“It’s the personal contact that you lose with the variety of our stakeholders,” Kosokowsky said. “I can say that people have adjusted amazingly well, and that adjustment has changed over time, so people are becoming more used to doing things remotely, but you do lose that personal connection ... with your colleagues.”

She talked more of these challenges. 

“What we’re seeing in the profession are two things. One, and what’s happening with the population at large, is the enormous impact it’s having on people’s … health and wellness and struggling with all the challenges that come with it; to pursue a busy and challenging career, when you have to do things in a confidential manner, but you might have children underfoot.”

Kosokowsky also pointed to how the health crisis has negatively impacted certain areas of practice, particularly those involving lawyers who would, under normal circumstances, frequent courtrooms.

“Like many segments of the population, the economic impact affects the profession disproportionately, depending on what area you’re practising in,” she said. “I think if you’re in the area of wills and estates, that’s picked up a fair bit, [and] real estate doesn’t seem to have, in the short term, been that negatively affected. But those people that have an emphasis in their practices on court work are struggling because the courts have been shut down, particularly in the more remote areas of the province.”

In response, Kosokowsky said, the law society has placed a temporary freeze on LSM membership fees.

“We’re a self-regulated profession, so the vast majority of our income is from fees from lawyers, and so we’re made a concerted effort ... to keep the lawyers’ fees flat — to not increase them. So, what we’ve done as a result is reduced our expenditures wherever we possibly can. We have an incredible group of benchers that have all kinds of great ideas, and we’re going into a strategic planning session to talk about what new initiatives we’re going to pursue over the next three years and where our priorities are. We’re really going to have to focus on where the money is going to come from, because you want to be able to do things for the public and enhance the competence of the profession. But all of that comes with a cost, and you have to put resources into it, so I can see that being an enormous challenge over the next while.”

Something else the health crisis has caused is a delay in Manitoba’s legislative push to expand the services non-lawyers are able to provide the public.   

Last March, Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen brought forward proposed amendments to the province’s Legal Professions Act, which would pave the way for the LSM to designate a category of non-lawyer practitioners and allow them to provide limited legal services to the public.

This has long been on the LSM’s radar in its bid to address a lack of affordable access to justice in the province — particularly when it comes to Manitoba’s remote, northern communities.

Kosokowsky said that due to the government having to deal with the health crisis, the proposed legislation has yet to be proclaimed. Like Dangerfield before her, Kosokowsky says such a move would help more people access legal help in areas such as family law.

Regulated non-lawyer practitioners, she said, could do “some of the legwork at the front end,” such as the preparation of certain documents.

“We have so many self-represented litigants right now, that they might just need help preparing a document, and then they’ll go into court on their own anyway. They might just look for a limited service of that kind.”

Kosokowsky likened the role to that of a physician’s assistant, who may administer booster shots to patients instead of the doctor having to do it.

“It’s the same concept: Is there a discrete service that could be provided [where] you don’t have to have a lawyer do it? But it’s complicated. It’s very complicated.”  

Kosokowsky was called to the bar in 1991 and practised civil, commercial, insurance and employment litigation before joining the LSM in 1999 as a member of its discipline department. She would go on to become director of complaints resolution in 2002 and was named director of regulation in 2015.

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