President’s Message: Stepping Up and Serving the Greater Good

  • February 21, 2023
  • Karen Perron

photo of OBA President Karen PerronTaking the helm of the OBA in September 2021 — with great excitement and unassailable determination to help members capitalize on their link to lawyers in eight provincial regions and cultivate deeper connections in the communities they serve — I said that, after my presidential year, “If I manage to give a little something back to an association that has given so much to me, I’ll happy.” When that time came, as fate (or the astute appointments process that saw our incoming president become an SCJ justice) would have it, I was asked to give a little something extra: six more months.

Was I happy? Stunned might be more accurate. Was I willing to step up? Once I had secured the support of my incredibly encouraging, accommodating firm, I was all in. With firsthand experience of the many ways OBA members step up to serve the greater good — including OBA Incoming President Kelly McDermott, who agreed to begin her term six months early, and Past-President Charlene Theodore who agreed to stay longer in her role — I readily followed that collective example of sacrifice and community service.

We are a community of lawyers who do what’s needed and who adapt as the situation demands. Some recent examples come to mind.

I was honoured to bestow a new OBA Recognition for Access to Justice upon two leading lawyers in the Southwest Region embodying career-long commitments to A2J: Jasminka Kalajdzic, a professor at the University of Windsor, founding director of the Class Actions Clinic at Windsor Law and author whose research into A2J issues in Canada is among the best; and The Honourable Mary Jo Nolan, a mediator and arbitrator who worked for 15 years as a child welfare advocate before becoming a lawyer, and who was the first female case management master in Ontario and first female judge to be appointed to the SCJ n Essex County.

Both recipients demonstrate the critical role lawyers play in levelling the playing field, ensuring that everyone has the ability to access the legal system and assert their rights.

I was particularly pleased to recognize Mary Jo Nolan during the newly launched Ontario Legal Conference (formerly OBA’s Institute) amid friends, family and colleagues who have been inspired and impacted by her work.

The renamed and reconfigured Ontario Legal Conference drew hundreds to the OBA Conference Centre to enjoy two comprehensive programs - one for Family, Trusts and Estates Law and one for Municipal, Planning and Environmental Law. Both featured the practical insights, diverse expertise, and helpful dissection of latest developments and emerging trends expected from OBA programming, alongside the increased opportunities for meaningful interaction, network-building and entertainment that the Association has become adept at providing in an optimal, inclusive conference experience for in-person and online participants.

Adaptability and anticipation are core to our current Innovator-in-Residence initiative, led by Council member Mante Molepo: a career accelerator designed to give early- and mid-career Indigenous and racialized lawyers the skills and training they need to advance in three emerging areas of law — artificial intelligence, ESG and fintech. Over eight weeks – beginning this summer – accelerators will participate in substantive professional development and gain access to opportunities in these areas, learning directly from practitioners who are stepping up to augment diversity, strength, ingenuity and inclusivity in their sectors.

As I transition to past-president, I will always be grateful to the generous OBA membership, our industrious Council and Board, and our enterprising staff who empowered me to make a difference and live up to the Association’s reputation for resilience and steadfast service.