The first two months of my term as OBA President have flown by. I have never been busier nor felt so certain of being at the right place at the right time.
Those of you who know me, know that at my core, my mission is to protect those who cannot protect themselves, that I despise those who demean and marginalize members of society and that I will do everything I can using the tools I have as a lawyer to stop hate, harassment and bigotry.
These issues are taking center stage in the news today, with a bit of a twist. While one side is fighting the same war they’ve always had to fight, the other side is getting validation from one of the most powerful politicians in the world. The result is a fight that is more unfair and more important to keep fighting.
I explained to the media in August that diversity, inclusion and unconscious bias was a priority for my term as President, however I feel that it’s necessary to repeat it here. These are issues that the OBA has been involved with in many ways in the past – but we’ve by no means reached the finish line. Lawyers are seeking advice on ways to best serve their clients who may be facing harassment, hate crimes and the many ways that issues relating to diversity, equality and inclusiveness can come up – and constructive ways in which to infuse their own practices with diversity and inclusion. We, as lawyers, also have a role to play in advising on legislation and other forms of advocacy.
I have started the work with our professional development, networking, and advocacy channels to make sure we’re providing the best services to our members in these areas. Our September program, Lawyers as Agents for Change: Tackling Hate, Racism, Xenophobia from a Practitioner’s Perspective is an example of this. A very well-attended program, it aligned with our mandate as an organization to provide our members with relevant, premium professional development while addressing a term priority. I encourage you to check it out. There will be much more to follow in the coming months on this topic.
There were some big changes at Council’s September AGM in the form of by-law amendments, starting with a strengthening of the OBA’s commitment to diversity by codifying the practice of appointing a representative from the OBA Diversity Program. We nearly doubled the Student and Young Lawyers’ voice on OBA Council: student positions increased from 14 to 20 while Young Lawyers increased from three to eight positions. A few significant changes to Council include the following: regional issues are now a core mandate for Council with the Board able to appoint eight additional regional representatives; Council will now be focused on advising the Board on priorities and needs of Ontario lawyers with operational and governance matters shifted to the Board, and; a streamlining of Council so that all participants represent the interest of OBA members by removing external legal association appointments and encouraging their OBA members to seek election or appointment to the newly expanded OBA Council. Finally, the lifetime appointments of OBA Past Presidents by-law was replaced with a three-year term following their presidential year, with an invitation to seek election or appointment to Council should they wish to continue to serve our Association.
Are these big changes? Yes. Were they necessary? Definitely. Change can be difficult, however, in order to stay relevant, competitive and work towards a more nimble organization, constant evaluation and recalibration is in order.
Around the corner in November, is OBA’s Make a Will Month. This year will see an expansion of our regular Speakers Bureau program with more than 40 legal information sessions on Wills and Estates by our volunteer members in the community. The public libraries in Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton, and a community hub in Cambridge will host these sessions that are aimed at educating the public on Wills and Estates planning and the importance of a lawyer-drafted will. To support the program, a compelling public awareness campaign will launch November 1st that will include digital assets, perfect for sharing on social media. These assets will be available to download from the Make a Will Month microsite (live the last week of October), and members are encouraged to share them on social media where our presence during Make a Will month will be extensive. If you don’t already, be sure to follow the OBA on LinkedIn, Twitter @obalawyers and Facebook.
I hope this month of giving thanks for all of you has been one filled with family, friends and joy.