The Advisory: Volume 9, Issue 2, August 2011

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My Life As A Bencher

By Dale Spackman, QC, Bencher, Law Society of Alberta

SO, WHY would anyone want to be an elected Bencher?

For some, it may be to fulfill a desire to serve one’s profession and to help preserve an independent, self-governing, and regulated legal profession (this would be the noblest of reasons); some may have a desire to gain experience in adjudication and see being a Bencher as a logical stepping stone to a different career in the justice system (perhaps this, in part, explains why the vast majority of Bencher candidates are barristers and the lack of solicitors at the Bencher table, which, in my view, is unfortunate); some cynics would suggest that selfaggrandizement is a primary motive (I would think a better characterization may be self-fulfillment or the Maslowian concept of self-actualization); some may be bored with their legal practice and want to pursue a new and different challenge. Whatever the motive, becoming a Bencher is not only an altruistic pursuit, but also an extremely rewarding one.

In my case, I saw running for Bencher as a logical extension of volunteer activities I was already involved in. In the late nineties, I was asked by the then Executive Director of the Law Society if I was prepared to serve on the Corporate- Commercial Advisory Committee, and I agreed. Shortly thereafter, I volunteered for a Federation of Law Societies of Canada Committee, which began my four-year involvement with the Federation, culminating in my taking a lead role in drafting their new constitution to codify a revised governance structure. At the time, I suspect like a lot of lawyers, I didn’t even know the Federation existed. As an alliance of all of the Canadian Law Societies focusing on issues and standards of mutual interest and applicable to all Canadian lawyers, the Federation provided me with a unique perspective on lawyer regulation in Canada.

I then ran for election as a Bencher and almost nine years later, am still at the Bencher table. Like a lot of Benchers, I came in not having a very complete understanding of what a Bencher actually does or the significant time commitment it involves.

However, I learned that a Bencher has three basic roles within the Society. These are (1) adjudicative (sitting on and chairing panels of Benchers conducting hearings into lawyer conduct, credentials and education matters, various types of appeals, etc.), (2) regulatory (carrying out the regulatory functions of the Society, such as making rules, facilitating and monitoring the insurance and assurance programs, code of professional conduct, practice review and remediation, lawyer education and admission, etc.) and (3) governance (acting as a member of the board of directors and participating in the management of the business and affairs and finances of the Society).

It would be difficult to describe my Bencher experience in the limited space I have available in the Advisory, so I thought I would just list a bunch of words that describe my own Bencher experience and the work that the Benchers perform (in no particular order of importance): interesting, challenging, intellectual, gruelling, frustrating, necessary, rewarding, gut wrenching, satisfying, important, difficult, rarely boring, time consuming, stimulating, frustrating, terrifying, exciting.

Two of the most rewarding parts of being a Bencher for me are the escape from the sometimes- tedious routine of practising law and the wonderful people you get to meet and associate and work with (not only fellow Benchers, but other lawyer volunteers and Law Society management and staff, but also other key participants in the justice system).

Being a Bencher also gives one a unique perspective on our chosen profession, its diversity and how extremely important lawyers are in upholding and preserving the principles that bind our free and democratic society together. Becoming a Bencher is not for the faint of heart or those who wish to concentrate only on the “big picture”.

However, if you are prepared to roll up your sleeves and immerse yourself in the work, I wholeheartedly recommend that you consider putting your name forward for election. You will not regret the experience and will come away from it not only with a wealth of new skills and experience, but also with a new and improved perspective on our honourable profession.

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