Strength in Scope and Practice Help Build Up the Profession

  • December 15, 2016
  • David Sterns

David SternsFor as long as I’ve practised law (and that’s more than 20 years now), I have been a member of the Ontario Bar Association. The collegiality, the quality professional development opportunities and avenues to help advance the profession are all important reasons for why I choose to be a member. And while I’ve always been impressed by the calibre and the breadth of the OBA’s work, I have developed a new-found appreciation for the OBA’s role as the voice of the profession during my tenure as the association’s President.

Over the past few months, I have seen sold-out award dinners flawlessly executed, have seen provincial legislation take shape under the guidance of OBA members, have proudly supported progressive advancements in building diversity and inclusion within the profession, and am seeing new members join every day.

In early November, I had the distinct pleasure of joining my colleagues from the Civil Litigation bar as we celebrated our colleague, Chris Paliare, the 2016 winner of the OBA’s Award for Excellence in Civil Litigation. It was a privilege to be in the company of Chief Justice Strathy and several other members of the judiciary, representatives from the Attorney General’s office, and hundreds of OBA members at this sold-out event at the Ritz-Carlton in Toronto. The camaraderie and collegiality served as a great inspiration that night. I was awed by what the OBA and its members can do.

The advocacy work that our members do is vital to advancing public policy so that it best reflects our profession, our areas of practice, our clients and our justice system.

When I entered into the role of OBA President, I committed myself to raising the profile of the OBA’s advocacy efforts. Knowing that advocacy is an integral part of the OBA’s work, I realized it was one area that’s not celebrated nearly enough. The advocacy work that our members do is vital to advancing public policy so that it best reflects our profession, our areas of practice, our clients and our justice system.

For example, thanks to our diverse, informed and experienced membership, we recently made a submission to the Law Society’s Professional Development and Competence Committee regarding the proposal for the Pathways Pilot Project, which included recommendations relating to the Law Practice Program.

This particular consultation is a prime example of OBA advocacy at work. OBA members are engaged; they have views and opinions, and the OBA creates the openings to carry our experiences, ideas and recommendations forward.

Throughout the process of consulting members for the Pathways Pilot Project, we heard the concerns of the profession about the current licensing process, and the particular impact on graduates from equity seeking groups.

Despite the short turnaround time provided, our submission was a substantial one made possible because of our dedicated members and excellent policy staff.

The Law Society’s Committee responded favourably to the recommendations we put forward.  In part as a result of our advocacy, the Law Practice Program will continue for an additional two years, permitting a more holistic review of the licensing process when the time comes – a process in which the OBA will actively participate.

Even more recently, the OBA made a submission to the Law Society’s Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees Working Group in response to their final report “Working Together for Change: Strategies to Address Issues of Systemic Racism in the Legal Profession.”

Having long supported the promotion of equality and diversity within the profession, the OBA was, once again, able to draw on its experience and the insight of its members to make meaningful recommendations to the Working Group.

Beyond advocating on Law Society initiatives, the OBA is also willing to take a stand on behalf of its members. In November, when Justice Bernd Zabel wore a hat associated with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign into a Hamilton court room on the day after the U.S. election, the OBA made its concerns about the incident known in a letter to the Ontario Judicial Council.

We did this because of our concerns about the inappropriateness for any judicial officer to wear or display political apparel while appearing in court. But also we wanted to raise our concern about the implications of displaying apparel linked to an individual who was associated with such controversial conduct, particularly those aspects of Mr. Trump’s campaign and his comments that were highly offensive to women and certain minority groups.

We never want to take anything for granted in our justice system. The profession always has room to grow and the administration of justice can always be improved.

As your OBA President, I continue my personal efforts to advocate on behalf of our profession. Most recently, I wrote an opinion piece for the Toronto Star which outlined the need to modernize Ontario’s court infrastructure and highlighted immediate steps the government could be taking right now to help move the profession forward.

I have also had meetings with the Treasurer of the Law Society, the Attorney General and the Chief Justice of Ontario. Each opportunity has been an occasion to raise the issue of our long neglected court system among other issues OBA members have identified through their various sections.

These are messages I will continue to carry forward. The OBA will continue to create paths for discussion and realisation.

I remain extremely proud of our profession and proud of the work we do through the OBA. But that doesn’t mean we should ever be done improving. I encourage OBA members to get involved in their Sections, to pay attention to the opportunities to have your voice heard and to raise the issues important to you – and to the bar – whenever you can. I’ll be doing the same, and I hope our paths will cross along the way.

David Sterns

President, Ontario Bar Association

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