From YLD Chair to Chief Justice: The Hon. George Strathy

  • October 01, 2014
  • Greg Crone

George StrathyGreg Crone sits down with Chief Justice George Strathy to talk about technology, access to justice, mentorship and Strathy's years with the OBA/CBA.

When George Strathy was a law student at the University of Toronto, he used to meet another law student, Bob Bauman, for early morning games of tabletop shuffleboard in the student lounge before heading to class.

When Strathy was appointed Chief Justice of Ontario last June, one of his first congratulatory calls was from his old law school buddy, who is now better known as the Honourable Robert J. Bauman, chief justice of British Columbia.

“His reaction was, ‘you’ll love the job’,” says Strathy. “It is a great opportunity to make a contribution to the justice system.”

Now fully settled into his new role, Strathy is showing every indication of doing just that.

Strathy took time this past summer talking to other judges, lawyers and people in government to informally talk about issues facing the justice system, with a special focus on access to justice. “It is a broad notion but it involves the cost and the timeliness of legal services and the complexity of dealing with the justice system. No matter what my other goals are, that has to be my primary goal; to identify how we can make inroads on that problem.”

Strathy has already shown he is serious about the issue, identifying it as a priority in his first opening of the courts speech in September. In the speech, he used blunt language, saying the justice system is “increasingly burdened by its own procedures” to the extent that the justice system itself has begun “to impede the very justice we are striving to protect.”

“Everybody has identified the problem, and instances of the problem, but now we have to tackle it,” he says.

“We have to identify ways we can make progress that are effective and cost effective. The reality is, there are not unlimited resources so we have to find ways of doing things in a less expensive way and getting them done.”

Increased use of technology must be part of the solution. “The technology is out there. It doesn’t require inventing new technology.”

“We have too many people coming to the court too many times in order to get to the end result of deciding their cases. If we can use technology to reduce those times or the length of those times we can save money all across the board. We can save the courts money and we can save clients money.”

Strathy also points to simplification of procedures, particularly in family law and criminal law. “It’s something that has to be looked at.”

Strathy is very interested in young lawyers and issues related to the newest members of the profession.

He benefited enormously in his early days as a lawyer by being mentored by senior members of his firm, who would often take him to court and invite him to take the second or third chair during a trial: “You would come along and watch and suck it in through osmosis.”

“They would give me a witness to do, or make part of the argument, without making or breaking the case.” He points out that sadly, it is an aspect of becoming a lawyer that isn’t done as much anymore.

“Good lawyers do it, and good lawyers mentor their juniors and give them a chance, but maybe not as much as they used to because of the cost and time,” he says.

Strathy said he wants to work on creating a formal program that would see mentoring offered to young lawyers who are not necessarily members of big firms who might now have access to experienced lawyers who can assist them.

“I am thinking of a mentoring system or buddy system. It’s so young lawyers can have someone they can call and who will also take an on-going interest in their career.”

As a young lawyer, Strathy was heavily involved in the Ontario Bar Association and the Canadian Bar Association as chair of the Young Lawyers Division. As part of the CBA’s executive, he had occasion to travel to every province in Canada. He was also instrumental in the founding of Law Day, through which elementary and high school students learn about the justice system.

“One of the things I tell young lawyers is, get involved, because you will meet people in your city, and across the province,” Strathy says..

“If you get involved with one of the OBA sections you get to know people in the same area, and before you know it they are involving you in cases or calling you for referrals. It was just about the best thing that happened to me in terms of my practice because I got to know people.”

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