At the August 14th CBA Annual General Meeting in Vancouver, I sat at the luncheon and watched as the chain of office (literally, a heavy chain is affixed around the shoulders) passed from 2011-2012 CBA President Tinda Ernst to the new president, Robert Brun.
As the chain passed, I glanced over and saw OBA President Paul Sweeny looking frantically around the room. He spotted me, rushed over, and was the first to congratulate me on assuming my new role as president of the OBA.
By tradition, each new provincial president assumes office the moment the chain of office is passed to the new CBA president. Paul looked a little relieved and I, I am sure, looked a little apprehensive.
My apprehension quickly dissipated with the realization that I am one of 17,500 OBA members and am not solely responsible for running our association. Our executive officers, Board of Directors and Council run our association with the excellent support of more than 40 staff members at the OBA’s offices on Toronto Street.
As President, my role is Spokesperson; to voice the messages and implement the policies you craft and provide to me over the coming year. I am here to serve you.
In this, my first “President’s Message”, I emphasize the importance of the OBA as a “community of lawyers, for lawyers.” Over the next year I will encourage all of our members to use the opportunities afforded through our community to discuss those things we do for our clients and for the broader communities in which we live.
We need to tell our stories to other organizations, both legal and non-legal. We must have the courage and the voice to talk amongst ourselves and to the public at large about the difficult and important work that lawyers and the OBA do.
I believe that most of us aspired to use our education in law to help others. I ask you to reflect on why you went to law school and entered this profession. Talk with fellow lawyers about what you have done and what you can do to achieve the goals you set for yourself when you entered law school.
Through our advocacy efforts and our community, we must continue our contributions to the improvement of the justice system for the benefit of every Ontarian and every Canadian.
Significant work still remains to be done: For example, last month I met with representatives from a shelter for women and children and was told of the desperate need for pro bono assistance for women and children who remain mired in the immigration and criminal systems after removing themselves from physically abusive relationships. Melina Buckley, chair of the CBA Access to Justice Committee, reports that 50% of litigants in family courts are unrepresented; unrepresented defendants in the criminal courts are more likely to be sentenced to prison, and the government is “out of legal aid.”
Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin recently told us that “access to justice is the most pressing problem our legal system faces.” So with these significant challenges, let’s continue the dialogue about what we as lawyers do, what we have done and what we can do better. And let’s bring this message to the public.
Finally, a comment on the OBA’s available resources for our advocacy efforts on behalf of the profession and for the public: OBA members make our advocacy initiatives possible through contributions of time and knowledge and through membership dollars that support full-time professional staff.
It has always puzzled me that all lawyers in Ontario do not see it as a professional obligation to belong to the OBA. 17,500 OBA members support the OBA’s advocacy efforts on behalf of 28,000 practising lawyers in the province. We should have 28,000 members supporting advocacy for 28,000 lawyers.
My challenge to all of our members is to identify one colleague over the next year who is not a member of the OBA and encourage them to join us in our important work, shared goals and comraderie.
I have been asked a number of times what I hope my “legacy” will be after my year as your president is complete. My simple response is: I want to leave the OBA an even stronger and more vibrant community of lawyers, for lawyers, than the strong, vibrant community that was handed to me on August 14th.
Morris Chochla, Forbes Chochla LLP