Participating. Connecting. Growing Together.

  • April 22, 2017
  • David Sterns

Since my last message the OBA has continued its strong advocacy work and made some notable contributions.

The Law Society Working Group’s Consultation on Advertising and Fee Arrangements came out with its report in February.  We were pleased that the conclusion aligned with the OBA’s submissions to it which emphasized the need for clarity in relation to lawyer advertising, and the need to consider limits on referral fees so as to discourage firms centred mainly around the business of advertising and referrals as opposed to the business of providing legal services.  These are both critical issues and that is why the OBA will remain involved as the Law Society moves to consider caps on referral fees.

As many of you know, earlier this month former Chief Justice Annemarie E.  Bonkalo released her report to the province and the Law Society on improvements to the family law system to promote access to justice for participants.  The report offers 21 recommendations, many of which – such as introduction of Unified Family Courts across the province – the OBA fully supports. 

The report also proposes, however, that many challenging family law issues such as custody, access, "simple" child support, restraining orders, enforcement and "simple" and joint divorces without property be provided by paralegals working without a lawyer's supervision. This proposal, that paralegals should be allowed to practice in areas central to family law, is dangerous to the public and will in fact undermine access to quality justice by participants by driving experienced lawyers out of family law.  Our response to this report will be released shortly after consultation with our Family Law Section; but you can rest assured that we will be speaking out strongly against this well-intentioned but ill-conceived proposal.

March kicked off with my President’s Law School Tour. By the end of the month, I will have visited and spoken to students at all seven law schools across the province. The theme for my talks has been The Importance of Launching your Career as a Law School Student. Through panel discussions and one-on-one conversations, we have explored the tools to start building a personal brand.  Of course, first and foremost among these tools is joining and participating in the OBA.  Membership –which is free for law students – offers an unparalleled opportunity to further their knowledge in a practice area and to start to network with practitioners in their chosen field. 

Another tool for launching a career while in law school is cultivating an online presence. This doesn’t mean tweeting about everything and nothing.  Instead, panelists and I urged the students to contribute to blogs as a subject-matter expert and thoughtfully weigh in on the content of others.  All of this can lead to conversations about issues that are important to them with experts around the globe that would otherwise be inaccessible.  Most participants agreed that having no online presence could be construed as negative by peers and employers in this day and age.  My thanks to OBA members: Omar Ha-Redeye (@OmarHaRedeye) and Doug Judson (@dwjudson) for joining me at Osgoode Hall; Jonathan Richardson (JMR_Lawyer) at University of Ottawa; Sarah Clarke (@sarah_mrc) at the University of Toronto and Jacqueline Horvat (@JacHorvat) at the University of Windsor.

Online engagement aside, one of our panelists made the point that standing out from the crowd is key. Human contact, meeting people face to face, and showing interest in the subject matter are all valuable ways for students to get noticed and get involved with other lawyers and causes they care about.

In this time of transition in the workplace, personal branding and profile building are important at all stages of a lawyer’s career. Everyone needs to manage their personal brand throughout their career.

Our Speakers Bureau program continues to grow. This is a unique opportunity for member volunteers to connect with their community and offer legal information in areas such as immigration, family law, cyber-security and wills and estates. A session at the Toronto Public Library’s Cedarbrae branch in Scarborough in March saw approximately 30 youth between the ages of 13 and 19 years-old drop by to learn more about privacy tactics and staying safe online: “I appreciate the chance to get out of the bubble of private practice and talk to people about the legal issues that concern them,” said Brent Arnold, Partner at Gowlings, who found the experience both rewarding and important. “The audience seemed to appreciate the chance to speak to professionals to whom they normally wouldn’t have access and I think we’d go a long way toward improving public perception of lawyers and the legal process if more of us participated in programs like Speakers Bureau.” If you want to make a difference in the community, and share your knowledge, please sign up through the Speaker’s Bureau page on our website.

Our annual OBA Association Awards gala is just around the corner on April 26. This event, which sells out every year, is an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate members of the profession who have made exceptional contributions to the practices of law in Ontario and to the OBA. All of the winners are announced in this issue; however, I would like to especially congratulate the recipients of this year’s President’s Award. Officially, this award “recognizes the significant contribution of an individual Canadian or Canadian organization, which … has made a significant contribution to the advancement of Justice in Ontario or elsewhere.”

This year’s recipients are the lawyers who are representing the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, pro-bono, in its efforts to secure equality for First Nations children in Canada.  Their dedication, perseverance and sacrifice in support of the highest ideals of the legal profession personify what the Award represents.  Congratulations to:

Sarah Clarke Sebastien Grammond
Anne Levesque    David Taylor

Please join me in acknowledging and celebrating all of our winners.


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