B.C. law society endorses mental health recommendations at February meeting

By Ian Burns

Law360 Canada (February 6, 2023, 11:57 AM EST) -- The Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC) has endorsed a new program to assist lawyers who are facing difficulties in dealing with the regulator’s disciplinary process.

The program was part of a suite of recommendations brought forward by the law society’s mental health task force at the LSBC’s Feb. 3 bencher meeting. Task force chair Brook Greenberg said the recommendation report he was bringing up was “somewhat slimmer” than had been planned for because the task force was still working through the recommendations of the national study of well-being in the legal profession which came out last year.

“The recommendations in the national study are numerous, and it will take it some time to review them, but we have decided to bring these recommendations to the table rather than holding off on them,” he said.

Brook Greenberg, Law Society of British Columbia

Brook Greenberg, Law Society of British Columbia

The recommendations that the benchers endorsed were the creation of a volunteer duty roster of lawyers available to assist colleagues who are experiencing difficulty responding to the law society’s investigation and discipline processes, as well as developing an expert system that provides support for those who may be experiencing mental health and substance abuse issues and setting up a forum to discuss the national study’s conclusions.

Greenberg said the first recommendation is intended to break a catch-22 which has made non-responsive lawyers “a really intractable problem” for the law society and its processes.

“That catch-22 arises because the lawyers may find themselves unable to respond, and the tools we currently have available to compel co-operation with an investigation are necessarily adversarial — and those tools we have available can sustain or even aggravate a lawyer’s inability to respond,” he said. “So, then we are left with administrative suspensions or other disciplinary outcomes, but those don’t get co-operation and participation which is what we are really after. Disciplining or suspending lawyers for not participating are necessary tools and we are not suggesting any change to that, but the public interest is served better by actually obtaining co-operation.”

The meeting was also the first presided over by new president Christopher McPherson, who took over from Lisa Hamilton at the beginning of the year. He will serve alongside first vice-president Jeevyn Dhaliwal, with Greenberg taking the position of second vice-president.

McPherson said there are many challenges and priorities which will face the LSBC in 2023, but the biggest is dealing with the province’s move to adopt a single legal regulator.

“Benchers and staff at the law society have had continuing interaction with the people from the government to discuss the details, and just as importantly to engage the profession and the public,” he said. “And the message I want to get out here is the importance of the independence of the bar because it is my view, and I think that is shared, is how can you have an independent bar if you don’t have an independent regulator. Many times a lawyer will find themselves at odds with the government while representing somebody that the community doesn’t like, so how can you be satisfied that you can act independently if you are not satisfied that your regulator — which deals with your discipline and code of conduct — is independent?”

And B.C. Chief Justice Robert Bauman, who recently announced his retirement, also attended the meeting for the last time as the province’s top judge — but joked that he may appear before the law society on disciplinary matters in the future.

“It is a challenging time for this self-regulating profession, as well as all self-regulated professions,” he said. “But now more than ever it is critical the bench and bar stand together and know the challenges we face and come up with solutions to move forward as a great profession.”

The next law society board meeting is scheduled for March 10.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips please contact Ian Burns at Ian.Burns@lexisnexis.ca or call 905-415-5906.