Strategic plan to guide B.C. law society in 2021: president

By Ian Burns

Law360 Canada (February 3, 2021, 2:18 PM EST) -- The Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC) has jumped into 2021 with a new head at its bencher table and a new strategic plan to guide its efforts.

The Jan. 29 bencher meeting welcomed new president Dean Lawton, who took over the top job from Craig Ferris. Lisa Hamilton becomes first vice-president, with Christopher McPherson taking the reins as second vice-president. As part of his online president’s message, Lawton noted the pressures brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic meant 2020 was a “tough year” but there are reasons for hope and optimism.

 LSBC president Dean Lawton

LSBC president Dean Lawton

“The legal profession has pulled together, in co-operation with the courts and government, providing legal service and access to justice for British Columbians,” he said.

Lawton noted benchers have adopted a strategic plan for 2021-2025, which he said builds on the initiatives which have kept the system running through the pandemic. He said the plan will guide the law society over the next five years in making improvements in areas such as innovation in regulation and education of the profession, taking action on increasing access to justice and promoting diversity in the profession.

“It has us look to continuously improve how we regulate and respond to the challenge you face as lawyers,” he said. “One of my priorities is advancing reconciliation and implementation of our truth and reconciliation action plan. In the coming months we will be launching an online course, free of charge to lawyers in British Columbia, to provide a baseline knowledge of Indigenous laws and legal traditions, along with an understanding of the history and legacy of residential schools.”

Lawton said another priority for him over the coming year is improving the availability of legal services through pilots monitored by the law society, such as the “innovation sandbox” which will consider proposals from people who are seeking to address unmet legal needs in the province.

“While provincial health directives currently do not allow in-person gatherings of any size, I plan to tour the province virtually, visiting local bar associations, holding town halls and meeting with stakeholders,” he said. “When it becomes possible to resume meetings in person, I will very much look forward to doing so.”

During the meeting, benchers dealt with a recommendation by the law society’s executive committee to tweak the rules surrounding disclosure of the existence of complaints against lawyers. Law society communications officer Vinnie Yuen said the blanket requirement to keep the existence of a complaint confidential, and its application to “all persons,” was overly broad.

“The rule change recognizes that the law society must keep all information and records of a complaint confidential, but complainants and lawyers who are subject of a complaint should be free to disclose the existence of a complaint unless the executive director determines otherwise,” he said.

At its annual general meeting (AGM) in 2020, law society members passed a resolution which would require LSBC benchers to amend its rules and code of professional conduct to require articled student agreements provide “at least” the rights and protections offered under the provincial Employment Standards Act’s provisions on minimum wage, hours of work and recognition of statutory holidays. Yuen said benchers have now asked the lawyer development task force to review the current articling process and make recommendations on it, including possible alternative pathways to lawyer licensing.

The B.C. law society’s next bencher meeting is scheduled for March 5.

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