We all know the lawyer jokes exist. We have all probably even laughed at a few. But while out in public, you rarely hear the story of a lawyer being altruistic or inspiring. This always strikes me as odd because, as I see it, lawyers can often be found doing a lot of good things.
Over the past few months, I have been moved in more ways than one by the sheer excellence that exists within our profession.
When the OBA offered free membership to its Women Lawyers Forum in recognition of International Women’s Day (March 8th), more than 440 OBA members joined. This uptake in women’s issues shows the profession’s growing commitment to participate in advocacy for women’s issues, to promote and advance the fair treatment of women in the profession, to consider the law as it affects women, and to honour the diversity of our profession.
When Pro Bono Ontario hosted “OBA Month” at their Hotline, more than 40 OBA members spent entire days lending their time and expertise to bring better access to justice to hundreds of low-income Ontarians who can’t afford a lawyer and don’t qualify for Legal Aid. In other words, people who had nowhere else to turn. These lawyers came from a variety of practice areas and career stages but were connected in their collective interests to enhance access to justice for Ontarians who need help with everyday legal problems.
And this year, at the annual OBA Awards Gala on April 25th, we had the good fortune to formally celebrate several examples of excellence in the profession.
We honoured a young lawyer who traveled to dozens of remote First Nations communities across the province to ensure their voices were heard as part of a class action lawsuit. We celebrated those who have dedicated their professional life to volunteerism and those who have spent their careers inspiring and mentoring others.
I was especially proud to present the OBA President’s Award to a group of lawyers who, over the past year, have embodied all that is right in the profession. The Canadian Cross-Border Legal Coalition, the recipients of this year’s OBA President’s Award, is a grassroots group of volunteer lawyers who mobilized in late January 2017 to support individuals affected by the U.S. government’s “travel ban” Executive Orders and who continue to reach out to affected individuals and communities to connect those in need with lawyers and organizations who can help advise on the impact of the Orders.
These lawyers moved swiftly to help those affected by the U.S. government’s imposed travel bans, quickly establishing the profession as leaders and trusted experts who were able to bring confidence and reason to an otherwise chaotic situation.
At the time, no one knew what was happening. Things were moving quickly. There was a lot of anxiety and a lot of questions. But the lawyers who make up the CCBLC were there. They were at the airports, liaising with airline officials, answering questions, helping surprised and anxious travellers. In very short order, these lawyers established our profession the preeminent source of trust and guidance.
These are the stories that exist in our profession, and it is an enormous privilege to sit as OBA President and bear witness to all of it. It has been said that doing the right thing even when no one is watching is called integrity. And that is what makes our profession so special. While the excellence that exists within our profession may not always be publicly noted, it exists and it persists. It is prevalent, and I am so very proud of it.