The Advisory: Volume 9, Issue 2, August 2011

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From the President

Bencher Election Key to Independence of Legal Profession

Candidates sought for upcoming election

By Doug Mah, QC, President, Law Society of Alberta

THE ELECTION of Benchers of the Law Society of Alberta, occurring every three years, is a key element in the governance of the legal profession in our province. Lawyers governing the profession in the public interest is the essence of independent regulation, which in turn means that lawyers can independently serve their clients, a fundamental value in our democratic society.

I’d like to share with you something about the roles and work of the Benchers at the Law Society and how that work advances the public interest.

First and foremost, the Law Society of Alberta is mandated to govern the legal profession in the public interest. Lawyers from around the province are elected to sit as Benchers to fulfill that primary mandate.

To do so, the Law Society of Alberta promotes a high standard of legal services and professional conduct through the governance and regulation of an independent legal profession.

The 24 Benchers of the Law Society of Alberta are responsible under the Legal Profession Act to regulate the practice of law in Alberta. Of the 24 Benchers, 20 are lawyers elected from around the province, and four are Public Representatives appointed by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General. The Public Representatives have all the rights and responsibilities of the elected Benchers but, under the current Act, cannot serve as President of the Law Society of Alberta.

Benchers bring to their work for the Law Society a diversity of experience and perspectives, including the context in which they live and work. The key responsibilities of the Benchers lie in two areas: governance and adjudication.

Governance Role

The Benchers discharge the governance role at the Law Society of Alberta, by setting policies and establishing the Rules of the Law Society of Alberta and the Code of Professional Conduct. In November, we will have a new Code of Conduct in place and the Benchers will be working with the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to ensure its continuing relevance and applicability to the practice of law in Alberta. Policies are either of a regulatory nature or enacted to reflect the desired relationship between the legal profession and society. Examples of the latter are the policies concerning pro bono or diversity in the profession. The Benchers also perform an oversight role with respect to the Law Society as a business organization.

Adjudicative Role

In serving the public interest, the Benchers have adjudicative responsibilities to resolve complaints regarding a lawyer’s conduct, deal with admission matters and determine Assurance Fund claims. Benchers may serve on the following adjudicative panels:

  • Conduct Committee panels reviewing formal complaints.
  • Hearing panels adjudicating lawyer conduct matters.
  • Appeal panels reviewing complaint dismissals.
  • Practice Review panels reviewing and assessing a lawyer’s practice and conduct in general.
  • Credentials and Education Committee panels which review admission applications and issues concerning reinstatement, articling and fitness to be a principal.
  • Assurance Fund Claim panels which review and assess claims against the Assurance Fund.
  • Panels of the Trust Safety Committee determining whether a law firm can operate a trust account.
  • Appeals related to hearing outcomes.
  • Applications for interim suspension.

The overall regulatory work of the Law Society, including adjudication, is undertaken in the public interest. The Law Society of Alberta is the only organization of lawyers that serves and protects the public interest. It is not a body that advocates on behalf of the interest of lawyers. The Law Society’s primary concern is that individual lawyers and the legal profession in general respectively meet their obligations to clients and society at large.

Lawyers Encouraged to Stand for Election

I encourage lawyers from all communities, practice and work settings, firm sizes and geographic areas in Alberta to consider running for Bencher in the upcoming election. It is desirable that the make-up of the Benchers reflect the profession’s diversity demographically, geographically and in terms of practice type. Being a Bencher provides an opportunity for lawyers to meaningfully engage in public service, provide leadership to the profession in a unique way, and develop adjudicative, policy-making and governance skills.

The next election is in November this year. In mid-August, the Law Society sent candidate election information to all active lawyers. Anyone with questions about being a Bencher may contact me at 780-498-8665 or President-Elect Steve Raby, QC at 403-267-8226.

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