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Colin Stevenson sm

Incoming OBA president will focus on innovation in profession, access to justice

Thursday, July 04, 2019 @ 10:54 AM | By Amanda Jerome

“Innovation” is the theme for Colin Stevenson’s upcoming presidency at the Ontario Bar Association (OBA). The litigator noted that “society is changing rapidly” and lawyers need to “keep up.”

“We’ve got to make sure that all our members, from the large Bay Street firms to the small solo firms ... all have the technological sophistication and the better business systems in place to continue to be the trusted advisers for businesses in the future,” he explained.

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Colin Stevenson, Stevenson Whelton LLP

Stevenson, of Stevenson Whelton LLP, will assume his position as OBA president on Sept. 1 along with the board of directors who will serve for the 2019-2020 term. Charlene Theodore, in-house counsel with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, will become vice-president and Karen Perron, of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, has been elected as second vice-president.

The OBA’s incoming president said that his innovation focus is not just about “technological innovation,” but innovation in the practice of law as well. Stevenson noted that part of his inspiration came from the OBA’s innovator-in-residence program. Peter Aprile, of Counter Tax Lawyers, is the current innovator-in-residence and has presented on how law firms can be structured.

“We’re a very conservative profession and have often been reluctant to change, but the fact is that society is changing rapidly around us and we as lawyers need to not only keep up, but we need to get ahead in some ways as well,” he explained.

Stevenson feels that the legal profession has fallen behind as large accounting and consulting firms have been “spending a fortune on technology and innovation.”

“There’s a risk that we’re going to fall behind if we don’t innovate,” he added.

Stevenson said the OBA’s innovation strategy will contain three elements.

“First, we’re going to have information services because lawyers don’t have time to figure out what technologies are available and what innovations are out there right now,” he said, adding that the OBA is going to compile the information with examples for ease of access.

“Stage two is the technical know-how,” he explained, noting that the OBA will have continuing professional development programs to show members how technologies will work in practices.

“Thirdly, we intend to negotiate with suppliers and applications for procurement packaging,” he said.

“For example, for solo lawyers who are just starting out on their own we’ll have what we’re going to call ‘practice on a laptop.’ So, the beginner lawyers, who have decided to be adventurous and innovative and set up on their own and be entrepreneurs, we’re going to ensure they’ve got all they need on a laptop and to let them practise right out of the gate. And then for the big firms we’re going to help them with the information that’s out there and we’re going to streamline the process so that all the law firms can get an aggregate service and compete with the Big Four [accounting firms] in particular,” he said.

Stevenson noted that big law firms already have “sophisticated processes in place,” but they’re not just competing against each other anymore.

“They’re competing against the Big Four consultants [KPMG, Ernst & Young (EY), Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)], and we’re going to help them work together to streamline the process of procurement,” he added.

Stevenson stressed that when he speaks about the benefits of innovation, he’s thinking about improving access to justice as well.

“I am talking first and foremost about protecting, or more importantly enhancing, lawyers’ practices and their livelihoods, but another part of innovation will be improving access to justice for the many people out there who can’t easily afford lawyers in their traditional roles,” he explained.

The incoming president noted that “one of the bigger problems for access to justice is the world of family law.”

“The forms are too complicated; the system is too complicated; the laws are too complicated,” he said, adding that lawyers need to provide unbundled services, education and “assist members of the public to truly get access to justice in family law.”

“At the OBA we’re going to be continuing our long-sustained push to get both levels of government to provide Unified Family Courts because Unified Family Courts will simplify the process and reduce costs. Both levels of government have recently moved forward somewhat in this general direction and we want to encourage them to do even more,” he added.

Stevenson has 31 years’ experience as a litigator, but his current professional focus as a mediator will be useful in helping bring people together.

The OBA calls itself the “voice of the legal profession,” he explained, “so we try and act as much as we can by consensus.”

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Karen Perron, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP

“I’d like to think I’ll be able to bring together our members to, not just innovate, but to fight for all of our other causes, including diversity and inclusion and equality rights. I think we do speak with a united voice and the benchers are hopefully going to listen to us,” he added.

Perron, a partner at BLG specializing in commercial litigation, said she echoes Stevenson’s comments on the importance of innovation as it improves access to justice.

“I really look forward to working with Colin in moving that agenda forward. It’s something that I think the entire board is keen to support and definitely recognize that it is a significant issue. Lawyers often don’t have time to figure out what technologies and innovations are out there, so we’re really looking forward to the association providing them with toolkits to be able to modernize their own practice and their ways of working, so that we can actually move forward as a profession and better serve the public going forward,” she explained.

Perron, who was born in Timmins and grew up in Northern Ontario, said her upbringing gives her a “unique perspective.”

“I’ve worked in a small firm. Now obviously as a partner at BLG, a national firm, I’ve seen different perspectives in terms of the realities that different members of our profession experience and so I come to the table with that understanding, and that knowledge, and respect for the different types of platforms that our members are operating in. I’m just thrilled to be able to bring that background to the table and I think it provides me with a practical first, hands-on approach to dealing with issues and being able to foster unity within the profession given people who are practising in those different settings,” she said.

Perron said as a female second VP and a future president, it’s important for the OBA’s leadership to reflect the bar from an “equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) perspective.”

“It’s something that I’m very proud of and I look forward to continuing the goals and agenda that Lynne Vicars, for example, has done in her role as past president. She’s done a great job at shedding light on gender inequality in the profession. EDI was a fundamental part of my platform and I know that it’s something that is near and dear to the OBA’s heart. I’m very much looking forward to continuing to send the message that if you’re looking for a home that understands the importance of EDI than the OBA definitely is the right association for you,” she added.