Lee Akazaki, Orlando da Silva and Quinn Ross

OBA Past-Presidents Bring their Experience to Bear in the Bencher Election

  • March 14, 2019

The Ontario Bar Association has a tradition of attracting leaders who want to make a difference within their profession. These individuals are inspired by the association’s membership and vice versa.

OBA presidents engage in the legal dialectic in unique and direct ways, and play a critical role during their year of service at the head of the board of directors. Often, this work leads to them wanting to do even more for their colleagues and the public. 

For some, this means running for Convocation. Leading up to this year’s Law Society of Ontario bencher elections, the OBA reached out to three former presidents who served in their role within the last decade. We asked them to link their time as president with their current aspirations.

Q: Having engaged with thousands of lawyers during your time as president, what is the main issue you heard that will influence you as a bencher?

Quinn Ross – OBA President 2017-18

The single unifying issue that I heard from all lawyers from all areas and interests was and is access to justice. The inability for more than half of the population of our province to access legal services is a reflection of the costs of legal service delivery, which is a reflection of the mode in which it’s delivered. This in turn relates to the structural models of firms and the justice system itself.  

Access to justice also means being able to find and retain counsel that reflects you, your community or your culture.  A barrier to this kind of access is a profession that doesn’t represent in its diversity the population it serves.  

Access to Justice is also about a well-funded and administered Legal Aid system. It is about supporting organized and effective pro bono initiatives that allow lawyers to serve, while ensuring the obligation for sustainable answers to the A2J crisis doesn’t fall solely on the shoulders of lawyers expected to work for free.  

During my year as president, I rolled out the Innovator in Residence program. This year-after-year program is designed to seek out and develop innovative approaches to the practice and business of law.  

In my year, we focused on the foundation of the traditional law firm, the people and structures within which they work. We hypothesized that given the freedom to explore, make mistakes and take chances, legal professionals will not only bring more to their work and service of clients, but will come up with previously unconsidered manners for the efficient and effective delivery of legal services.  

To this point, the LSO has limited its conversations with the profession to what it can’t do. It’s time to start supporting and guiding what they can.  

Lee Akazaki – OBA President 2010-11

In Ontario, we lawyers have a “love-hate” relationship with the Law Society. We love the tradition and the trappings. Yet the tradition and trappings make it seem exclusive and formidable. Because of its institutional size, the LSO can appear distant and monolithic. Quite understandably, our thoughts about the Law Society tend to react to the quality of our last interaction.  

For many of us, especially in small and solo practice, our one point of contact occurs annually when we pay our Law Society dues. This potential for estrangement tells me the Law Society must work hard to ensure members are treated with respect and the highest standards of public service.  Let the last interaction with the LSO inspire pride and confidence in our calling.  

My election to the OBA presidency in 2010 channelled a widely felt urgency for professional renewal of purpose. The legal profession, including many in leadership of the OBA, thought the Bar’s role was to protect members from what was going on in the rest of society (even in this bencher election, there are single-issue candidates who wish to take the Law Society backwards.) 

The profession’s inability to adapt to the diversity and creativity of Canadian society did very much risk our being left behind. My platform was to prepare us for a host of oncoming occupational challenges.  I campaigned for mandatory CPD …  I pushed for greater services to regions outside of Toronto … I reached out to the law schools to re-engage. Most importantly, I put women and minorities in leadership positions and watched them inspire others to follow suit.    

Orlando da Silva – OBA President 2014-15

What struck me most often when I spoke with people was that, despite differences in geography and demographics, people commonly recognized the need to improve the culture of mental health in the profession.

So, above all else, I want to bring my lived experience to the table to revitalize the work of the Mental Health Task Force of 2016, implement its remaining recommendations faster, and take the discussion and anti-stigma campaign to the next level. I also think the LSO needs to improve the mental wellness of the justice system more broadly by improving anti-stigma campaigns and mental health supports for all those who are engaged in (or subject to) the administration of justice.    

Of course, a concerted effort among willing stakeholders makes this an achievable goal. This, in and of itself, is an extension of what I tried to achieve as OBA President. It moves me more than any other issue. 

My most enduring lesson from my time as President, apart from the common concerns about mental wellness in the profession, centred on how important it was to support lawyers who served the public through sole and small firms, sometimes, but not always, in rural centers. Their needs, in achieving competence and demonstrating excellence for their clients, differ significantly from the needs of a self-sufficient Big Law firm. Yet, seemingly, we often fail to recognize that the public uses solo and small firms more than big firms to resolve their legal issues. 

That was a big wake up call for me. We need to support these lawyers more with practice management training, tools, and technology.

Visit our OBeA Bencher site to find out more about OBA members running for bencher.