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Lawyers and the OBA: Come blow your horn | Gary Joseph

Wednesday, February 24, 2021 @ 2:33 PM | By Gary Joseph

Gary Joseph %>
Gary Joseph
In the midst of this pandemic, public confidence in government and various institutions has been strained (to put it mildly). At every turn it seems that our political leaders are failing us. The federal government’s vaccine response reminds me of the Keystone Cops skits of old. The operation of “Cottage Parliament” by our prime minister strikes many as an affront to democracy. Our provincial government’s shutdown policies are inconsistent and hard to understand. In all of this, certain segments of our society have bucked the trend and performed wonderfully. High on my list is the Ontario Bar Association (OBA). Full disclosure: I am a member but have absolutely no involvement in management of the OBA.

Immediately upon the first wave of the pandemic the OBA began organizing webinars and Zoom meetings for various practice sections. Leaders of the bar through the OBA provided advice and leadership to an uncertain bar coping with a new and unprecedented medical and economic situation. More importantly in my view, I understand the OBA helped court administration in its remarkable speedy adoption of virtual hearings and digital filings.

The OBA continues to work with court administration to improve services now offered to the public virtually. This co-operation between leadership of the bar and the court administration is perhaps a foreshadowing of what can be done and what may be done in the future to better serve the public. Further the OBA has led in the organization of pro bono volunteer lawyers to assist impecunious tenants in their dealings with eviction issues arising from the economic consequences of the pandemic. The OBA continues to assist members in many other aspects of dealing with the COVID crisis. The association has demonstrated that service to the public and service to the bar can be combined in one organization.

Through all of this the public has little appreciation of the work done by the OBA and the many volunteer lawyers who have given and continue to give of their time and expertise. Now contrast this with the doctors of this province. Obviously, their front-line services to the public have been exemplary yet they have also been quite vocal in telling us so. They are not shy and never have been in letting the public know of their invaluable services. In fact, in the course of an hour walk this morning with my dog I heard three separate radio ads trumpeting their admirable services. I do not make these comments about doctors in a critical manner.

This then brings me back to one of my old (and perhaps boring) themes. Why as lawyers are we shy to tell the public of our significant contributions to the administration of justice and to society in general? Where are our sign boards? Where are our radio ads? In these bleak times leadership counts. The public needs to know that despite continual government failings, leadership can be found among the practising bar and among its leadership organizations such as the OBA. We need to come a long way back to “normal.” The bar has an opportunity to play a leading role in this recovery. In doing so, we can help restore public confidence in the administration of justice and in lawyers in general.

As horrible as this pandemic has been for all, there exists an opportunity here that should be taken. Not only can lawyers let the public know of our contributions during the pandemic, but we can claw back some of the respect the profession deserves.

Gary S. Joseph is the managing partner at MacDonald & Partners LLP.

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