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Beverley Spencer

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All creatures great and small

By Beverley Spencer June 26, 2014 26 June 2014

When I was growing up, we shared our home with a series of dogs, cats, fish, turtles and newts. With the exception of the aquarium dwellers, all of them were bona fide family members. Some were strays who took up residence with us; others came from shelters. But we loved them all and mourned the passing of each furry friend.

Today, my husband and I have a handsome Golden Retriever named Hudson. He too is a bona fide family member who enjoys treats, toys and going to the dog park to play with his peeps. Spoiled? Maybe a little. But his gentle disposition and unflagging devotion bring us so much joy that it’s hard to imagine life without him.

As a pet lover, I am incensed by cruelty to animals. So were the thousands of Ottawa residents who recently signed a petition urging a judge to jail the man who beat a dog almost to death then tossed her in a dumpster to die. (His sentencing is pending at this writing. The Crown is seeking four years.) But do we care as much about how the animals we eat are treated? What about animals used for transportation or entertainment? Are we willing to avert our eyes from the suffering of creatures who don’t share our lives or touch our hearts?

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Lessons on nation-building

By Beverley Spencer June 20, 2014 20 June 2014

Lessons on nation-building

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After Nadon: Now what?

By Beverley Spencer June 3, 2014 3 June 2014

The Supreme Court of Canada’s surprising decision in the Nadon case didn’t simply decide the fate of one supernumerary judge from the Federal Court of Appeal: it also clarified the top court’s specific role in the Constitution. And according to academics who gathered last week in Ottawa to parse the decision, the Court’s answer will reverberate for years to come.

The federal government opened up a can of worms in the Nadon Reference when it asked the Court whether Parliament could enact legislation to change sections five and six of the Supreme Court Act which govern general eligibility requirements.

The problem, as Prof. Paul Daly of the University of Montreal points out, was that Part V of the Constitution Act, 1982 protects the Supreme Court of Canada from changes to its composition. And the federal government’s move arguably raised questions of whether changing the eligibility criteria fell within federal parliamentary authority or whether a constitutional amendment was required.

The Attorney-General had argued that Parliament has the power under the Constitution Act, 1867 to unilaterally amend the eligibility criteria under sections 5 and 6.  The Court begged to differ. The Constitution Act, 1982, it said, reflects the understanding that the Court’s essential features – its independence and its jurisdiction as the final general court of appeal, including in matters of constitutional interpretation – are protected under the Constitution. Parliament is responsible for maintaining  the essence of what enables the Court to perform its role and can enact amendments for the continued maintenance of the Court, but it cannot unilaterally modify its composition or other essential features.

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Bright ideas

By Beverley Spencer May 5, 2014 5 May 2014

Why the buzz about design thinking?

As senior editor Yves Faguy learned earlier this year at the ReInvent Law Conference in New York, there’s a lot of talk about how lawyers can use design tools to make law more accessible and user-friendly for consumers of legal services.

What does this mean? The concept of design thinking has been around for a long time: Herbert Simon, one of its pioneers, defined it as “a creative process based around the building-up of ideas” and set out a protocol that starts with targeting the right problem to solve, then framing it in a way that invites creative solutions. (Fast Company nicely sums it up this way: Question: “How many designers will it take to screw in a light bulb” Answer: “Why a light bulb?”)

As changing trends and consumer values disrupt business as usual, more companies are turning to design thinking for the tools to become innovators rather than passive victims of the marketplace. It’s only natural that legal innovators are getting onboard.

What’s striking is how far the legal profession is being pushed outside its notional comfort zone.  Design thinking challenges lawyers to rethink how legal services are delivered — it’s about what clients actually want and can use, not what has worked in the past. More importantly, it recognizes that lawyers do not have all the answers for what ails the legal industry; other professions have valuable lessons to impart about how to think through the challenges ahead. (For more, read “Law by design” in this issue.)

You might not be ready to use Google Glass to record depositions (yes, it’s already happening.) But there’s lots of other ways to get outside your comfort zone and hone your competitive edge — and lots of reasons to pay close attention to all the buzz  about design thinking and what it all means for the future of law.

Send your comments to comments@nationalmagazine.ca.

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Women & leadership

By Beverley Spencer March 6, 2014 6 March 2014

Women & leadership

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