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Grant Driedger, Smith Neufeld Jodoin LLP

Manitoba’s law society getting new president

Thursday, May 13, 2021 @ 9:50 AM | By Terry Davidson

Law Society of Manitoba incoming president Grant Driedger plans to use his time in the role to help bring greater access to justice to the province and guide the profession through challenges caused by the COVID-19 health crisis.

Driedger, a civil, administrative and estate lawyer with Smith Neufeld Jodoin LLP, will officially become president at the law society’s next bencher meeting, on May 20.

 Law Society of Manitoba incoming president Grant Driedger

Law Society of Manitoba incoming president Grant Driedger

Driedger, who until then will continue his duties as vice-president, recently sat down with The Lawyer’s Daily to talk about the new role — which, as law society policy dictates, will last for a term of one year.

His appointment comes not five months after longtime staffer Leah Kosokowsky became CEO, replacing the retiring Kris Dangerfield.  

When asked about challenges facing the law society, Driedger pointed to the ongoing task of dealing with the social and economic fallout from the pandemic.

“Mental health … is one for sure,” he said. “Lawyers are disproportionately prone to suffer from depression and other mental illnesses. I don’t think we have data specific to the legal profession, but that has been seriously aggravated, certainly not just with lawyers, but for all manner of people from this pandemic.”

But something that has helped lessen stress for some lawyers is their ability to now communicate remotely for some matters, rather than have to spend valuable time running from courtroom to courtroom. It is one reason why he hopes the increased use of phones and videoconferencing will become a fixture, post-pandemic.

“I hope, personally, that some of these changes stick because I think there is some good that has come from it,” said Driedger. “I think it’s a no-brainer that this should be able to continue. For somebody who lives outside of Winnipeg to have to kill half a day to go and have a five-minute appearance in front of a judge, that always struck me as inefficient. So, I hope some of those things will stick around, but I suppose time will tell.”

Driedger also touched on longstanding issues with access to justice in the province. As Kosokowsky told The Lawyer’s Daily earlier this year, Driedger noted legislative changes in the works that would give non-lawyer practitioners wider scope as to what services they could provide to the public.

He referred to it as a step-by-step process that started with a move to regulate “legal entities” as well as individual lawyers.

Driedger spoke of areas of law where non-lawyers and paralegals could act in situations where average people cannot afford the services of a lawyer.  

“The practical reality is the majority of people in family court are there self-representing, which creates all kinds of challenges. So, the notion that somebody who may not be a lawyer but has some training [and] can do better than these people do representing themselves, that seems … to make sense.”

Driedger will also have a hand in building up public confidence in the legal profession by making people more aware of how the law society works as a regulator.

“I think maintaining public confidence in the justice system and the legal profession is something we need to be very mindful of because the legal professions in Canada are self-regulated,” said Driedger. “That [public confidence] has been eroded in some parts of the world, and there is the potential for that to happen in Canada, as well. I think our system of regulating lawyers works very well, [but] I think sometimes the public is not particularly aware of how we deal with things. To me, that is an issue. Access to justice is related to that a little bit as far as how those things are connected. … If the public at large doesn’t have confidence in how the law society is operating, that becomes a challenge for the legal profession.”

Driedger, who studied agricultural economics as his major before moving to law, graduated from the University of Manitoba’s law school in 2001. He was called to the bar in 2002.

He has been a law society bencher since 2014 and has served on a number of committees, including stints as an adjudicator with the discipline, complaints and admission and education committees.

Driedger currently lives in the southeastern Manitoba community of Grunthal with his wife, son and two daughters, and has been a volunteer for a variety of community organizations, including church and sports groups and a personal-care home. He has also coached minor hockey.

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