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Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC) president Dean Lawton

B.C. law society will give ‘serious and thoughtful deliberation’ to governance report: president

Friday, December 24, 2021 @ 8:01 AM | By Ian Burns

The Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC) is pledging action on a recent governance report which praised the society’s commitment to equity and diversity and respectful relationships but identified a number of weaknesses, including concerns about a lack of direct engagement with the public and consideration of their interests in decision-making.

In July 2021, the law society retained Harry Cayton, an expert in professional regulation governance, to conduct an independent review of its governance structure. It asked him to consider governance rules, practices and policies, including how they support equity, diversity and inclusivity, evaluate them against the prescribed standards of good governance, and make recommendations for any improvements he considered necessary.

And according to Cayton’s final report, the legal framework within which the law society operates is not fit for a modern regulatory body and that it hampers benchers in fulfilling their responsibilities. In particular, he noted, the power of the members to elect the benchers and to overrule them, and to stop changes to the society’s rules, means that the society acts more like a professional association than a professional regulator.

“The multiple roles which benchers are required, or have chosen, to fill results in inevitable conflicts of interest. The number of benchers is too many for effective and efficient decision-making, that there are too many committees and groups and that their roles and accountabilities are unclear,” he wrote. “The review finds that there is a lack of engagement with regulatory matters and that the society is too involved in responding to the interests of the legal profession.”

Cayton’s review found the law society’s governance has strengths in its comprehensive governance policies and procedures; its commitment to equity and diversity and truth and reconciliation; its corporate behaviour and respectful discussion of issues; and the positive relationship between the benchers and the executive team. It found weaknesses in conflicts of interest, lack of focus on regulatory matters, measurement of outcomes and lack of engagement with the users of legal services and commitment to the public’s interests. The report makes recommendations relating to governance structures, membership and elections, reducing conflicts of duties and interests, management of risks of harm and the efficiency and effectiveness of governance.

Dean Lawton, law society president

Dean Lawton, law society president

And the law society is pledging to take action, saying it has already begun developing initiatives that anticipated some recommendations, including tweaks to the tribunal process, recruiting more diverse tribunal members and simplifying the complaints process to make it more accessible.

“The law society undertook this governance review and engaged Harry Cayton to conduct it expecting we would benefit from his knowledge and experience with professional regulatory bodies, globally and locally, and from the frank assessment he provides,” said law society president Dean Lawton. “I am pleased with the report and I know the board will give serious and thoughtful deliberation to all that he has recommended.”

And incoming president Lisa Hamilton, who takes office at the beginning of January, said the law society’s board will be giving further consideration to the report and its recommendations early in 2022.

“I anticipate asking the staff executive team to assess the practical implications of the recommendations and provide advice to the board on how to move forward with the improvements that have been suggested,” she said.

Cayton’s full report can be found here.

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