The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

National Blog

Leading through consensus

By Robert Brun August 28 2012 28 August 2012

    I am not exaggerating when I say that joining the Canadian Bar Association was one of the most important decisions of my life. It was one of three life-changing choices that I made in 1975 — the other two being my decisions to pursue a legal career and to marry my wonderful wife — that have enormously influenced how my life has unfolded. 

    When I first entered the legal profession, the culture of law was a mystery to me. I had no family members or close friends who were lawyers and joining the CBA enabled me to meet people who could assist me in navigating this foreign land. My involvement enriched both my professional and personal lives, and I became eager to give back. 

    In 2003-04, I was honoured to serve as president of the B.C. Branch of the CBA. I also have served as a member of the national Task Force on Conflicts of Interest and as the B.C. Branch appointee to the national Justice Review Task Force. Now, as president, I look forward to the opportunity to encourage others to reap the benefits of CBA membership.

    The CBA plays an important public role: It brings the crucial rule of law perspective to the debate regarding how we, as a society, should govern and be governed. We defend protections developed over centuries for individual liberties. We speak out on the importance of an independent profession and judiciary. Also, the CBA is embarking on a critical analysis of our justice system to promote greater access to justice and legal services for the average Canadian. 

    As lawyers, we are in a unique position to anticipate the practical impacts of law reform in Canada and internationally. As your president, I am proud to continue in the CBA’s great tradition of bringing this important perspective to the public discourse. 

    The CBA’s work as a whole is valuable — but it is also expensive. It is why membership retention and enhancement will be a priority of mine this coming year. Without a robust membership, our moral authority and economic ability to speak out is lessened.

    I plan to lead through consensus to help the CBA reach its strategic objectives. It is a leadership style that has served me well, both in the practice of law and as a volunteer, and I believe it is the best and only way to achieve effective outcomes in an organization like the CBA.

    I look forward to meeting with many of you as I embark on this new challenge.

    Send your comments to cbapres@cba.org.

    Read More

    The common touch

    By Beverley Spencer August 28 2012 28 August 2012

      Alberta Premier Alison Redford speaks with real conviction about the importance of bringing citizens into public policy discussions. That’s not surprising considering her background: long before she entered politics, she worked in communities around the world on issues that touch the everyday lives of ordinary people. What might be unusual is how that has shaped her approach to politics.

      Her international development work took her to South Africa where she managed a constitutional development project for the CBA in partnership with an organization involved in test-case litigation on issues ranging from employee rights to the right to antiretroviral HIV drugs for pregnant women. Later, she travelled to Afghanistan where she helped organize the first parliamentary elections. She was involved in writing the election act, educating voters and negotiating who could run for office (although convincing the cabinet that people with private standing armies should be disqualified was a tough sell since some members actually had their own army.)

      As Redford explains, Afghanistan was a lesson in the very fundamentals of the democratic process. She remembers travelling to a small school in Helmand Province to speak to women about voting, and being struck by two things: first, that the women clearly thought it was important because they brought their daughters; and second, that they did not know what a vote was. Her explanation — that voting means having a voice in government — got her thinking about how people connect to government and whether it was time to take a seat at the decision-making table herself.

      When I met Redford in Calgary in June, she was fresh from stunning pollsters with her unexpected electoral victory over Wild Rose candidate Danielle Smith. And she was still thinking about people’s connection to government and the importance of bringing voters into the conversation. 

      “We really have to bring politics back to the kitchen table and to the school boards and to the community so people feel that they can make a difference,” she said. She connects the dots between low voter turnout and people’s loss of connection to government, pointing out that voter turnout jumped from 40 per cent in 2008 to 59 per cent in the last Alberta election “because we took the political debate to the public.”

      In her opinion, good political leadership defines its values and sets the long-term direction, then seeks public input on how to get there. It’s not politics as usual — but then it’s not supposed to be.

      — Send your comments to national@cba.org.

      Read More

      Feeling the Pressure? You're not alone.

      By Beverley Spencer August 28 2012 28 August 2012

        After I was accepted to law school, one of my newspaper colleagues made a point of sending me stories about lawyers in crisis. The common thread was that lawyers suffer high rates of depression and addiction and as a professional group are vulnerable to suicide. It was a reminder — and perhaps a warning — that the profession has a dark side.

        It turns out these were not apocryphal tales. It was true 20 years ago and it’s true today: lawyers and law students face a disproportionately higher risk of depression than the general population. In fact, one in three will experience a major mood disorder or problem with addiction at school or work during their careers. These are intelligent, capable, high-achieving individuals. And yet they struggle, often in silence, unwilling to reveal the depth of their pain. Why?

        Environment and personality both play a role, according to researchers. Law school is competitive and “notorious for deflating the self-image and sense of competence of its students,” says Dr. Lawrence Krieger of Florida State University College of Law. Other studies have revealed that law attracts individuals with certain personality traits. Dr. Larry Richard, a U.S. psychologist and former trial lawyer, found that when tested for resilience, 90 per cent of lawyers consistently scored in the bottom half of the general population, making the majority more sensitive to criticism, setbacks and rejections and quicker to become defensive. Many find it hard to strike a work-life balance and they deal with stress in unhealthy ways.

        Fortunately, the profession has recognized this problem and is ready to help. The CBA’s Legal Profession Assistance Conference (LPAC) helps lawyers, judges, law students and their families with personal, emotional, health and lifestyle issues. Confidential help and professional referrals are available through LPAC’s 24/7 Helpline at 1-800-667-5722. LPAC also develops programs and liaises with law assistance program across the country.

        Don’t be afraid to reach out. In Ontario alone, the Ontario Lawyers’ Assistance program is working with about 1,200 individuals. About 42 per cent of cases involve mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and debilitating stress, according to the 2010 annual report.

        There is no need to suffer in silence and no shame in asking for help. In fact, making the decision to seek help can be the most difficult part of the process. But once you do, you’ll be on a path to a much brighter future.

        All you have to do is ask. 

        — Send your comments to national@cba.org.

        Read More

        Moving in new directions

        By Beverley Spencer June 1 2012 1 June 2012

          Your experience with National magazine is about to change — for the better.

          The National team is preparing to launch an exciting new online presence later this year with the introduction of nationalmagazine.ca. It’s still the National that you enjoy eight times a year, but with a twist. You’ll find new content in the form of blogs and videos, fresh insights and a greater opportunity to interact with us.

          Senior editor Yves Faguy has been instrumental in the rollout of this project. “Our objective is to create a more dynamic forum online for Canadian professionals interested in the practise and substance of law by engaging readers and members. We’ll be offering them original, thoughtful content, from long-form legal journalism to thought-provoking blogs and video,” he says. That’s what makes this initiative so exciting: it’s an opportunity to build on the quality content that National generates and to engage readers on a whole new level.

          The online world offers the opportunity to deliver content to readers on a variety of platforms and engage them in a new way. Do you have five minutes? Check out a video: You’ll find excerpts of our conversations with power players and thought leaders in the legal profession. Do you have 10 minutes? Read our picks of the top newsworthy legal stories of the day. Do you have an opinion about something you’ve read? Post a comment on a blog. We welcome the opportunity to start a conversation.

          However, our print publication will remain central to everything we do. The website is intended to complement the magazine, not replace it. There are plenty of readers who still enjoy sitting down with a glossy magazine for a good read and we will continue to produce stories that offer a nuanced view of complicated issues. The website offers the opportunity to build on this legacy and interact with you in a new way. Watch for more details.

          Speaking of editorial excellence, National has received seven nominations for the KRW Business Press Awards. Our finalists were selected from a field of 600 entries from 57 business-to-business magazines across Canada. The winners will be announced in June.

          — Send your comments to national@cba.org.


          Read More

          Know thyself

          By Beverley Spencer September 13 2011 13 September 2011

            I had the opportunity recently to catch up with a group of law school friends over dinner. They are all busy, successful women, some with young children, who have carved out interesting careers: one is a partner in an Ottawa firm, two work as government lawyers, one is a general counsel, and one is an entertainment lawyer.

            All of them have one thing in common: they based important decisions at law school on considerable self-knowledge and a determination not to follow the crowd.

            I’m not necessarily referring to their choice of courses or even articles nor am I suggesting that everyone enjoyed a smooth career path. I mean they knew themselves well enough to identify their interests, the kind of environment where they would thrive — and where they wouldn’t — and how they want to live their lives. They also prepared for future opportunities by networking and volunteering (one volunteered for an organization that eventually created a job for her) and when one door closed, they found another open elsewhere. They worked incredibly hard, but they are also among the most well-rounded people I know.

            There is a lot of pressure on students to make the “right” decisions about courses, summer jobs and articles. The stakes are high: The “right” decisions, we are told, will launch us on a fabulous career where we’ll enjoy challenging work, untold riches, and the respect of grateful clients. The “wrong” decisions can mean no articling job at all and a one-way ticket to Loser-Town.

            Of course, what’s “right” or “wrong” depends on the individual, which is why keeping your own counsel is so important. For some of your classmates, it might be Bay St. or bust, but are you willing to put in 80-hour-plus weeks for the money and status? You have to love what you do to make the necessary sacrifices, whether it’s making partner in Big Law or building a successful practice as a sole practitioner. Understanding who you are, what motivates you, and why you went into law in the first place is the first crucial step.

            As the stories in this issue show, knowing yourself, keeping your own counsel and demonstrating your interest can lead you to fascinating career possibilities. Sometimes, it leads you away from the practice of law — but that can be a good choice too.

            Ultimately, it’s your career. Don’t just let it happen to you.

            — Send your comments to national@cba.org.


            Read More