The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Kim Covert

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Daring to dream, and to be smarter

By Kim Covert August 29, 2013 29 August 2013

Martin Luther King had a dream – he said so 50 years ago. He had a dream of equality, of a world where the content of one’s character was more important than the colour of one’s skin.

And not to say that parts of his dream haven’t come true – the colour bar isn’t anywhere near as strictly regulated in 2013 as it was in 1963 – but his desire seems a bit quixotic, even from a 50-year remove.

Diversity, equality, inclusion – they’re all still targets to hit, instead of benchmarks met. It’s by no means a black-and-white issue; in a world still largely run in all the important aspects by rich white men of Judeo-Christian origins, the divide encompasses gender, race, religion and socio-economic status just for starters, not to mention issues of sexual identity, physical and mental challenges and a host of other traits that seem to create an unbridgeable gap.

And every time a new challenge is thrown down – a demand for equality on the bench, in the C-suites or the boardroom, for example – it seems only to serve to underline the depth of the chasm, whether by evoking denials from the perpetrators that the chasm even exists, or new justifications for its existence.

At the same time, studies have shown that diversity in power positions is a certain key to success – it helps boards and executives, among other things, get past groupthink. Dr. Arin Reeves, in her keynote speech to the 2013 CBA Legal Conference, said that it’s been shown that regular interactions with people who are unlike ourselves actually makes us smarter.

Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, 45 years after Pierre Trudeau spoke of Canada becoming a “just society” in which “citizens will be actively involved in the development of a country where equality of opportunity is ensured and individuals are permitted to fulfil themselves in the fashion they judge best,” we are still living in a country where governments must require equality to make it happen.

King would probably have been too nice to put it this way – or at least, too linguistically blessed to have to put it this way – but we should all have a dream in which we live in a world that has stopped being stupid about differences, and has the intelligence to embrace them.

 

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Discussion sur l'herbe

By Kim Covert August 27, 2013 27 August 2013

Any given sunny weekend in summer, visitors to Parliament Hill who take a few minutes to sit on the lawn and enjoy the view will notice a few things: lots of dogs and Frisbees; an overall convivial atmosphere; and there seems to be as much weed in the air as underfoot.

After I got over my initial shock at the idea of anyone sparking up in front of Parliament, I had to laugh at the bravado of those who would thumb their noses at government in this way. “You may make it illegal for me to carry the stuff around,” the pot smokers seem to say, “but you can’t make me stop smoking it in your front yard.”

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s announcement that his party would seek to legalize marijuana – and not simply decriminalize it, as former prime minister Jean Chretien’s government had proposed – and his more recent acknowledgement that he’s inhaled once or twice in his life, seem designed to appeal to younger voters, the 4/20 crowd who are disinterested and disengaged when it comes to politics – voter turnout of Canadians aged 18-24 was 38.8 per cent in the 2011 election, compared with a (dismal) 61.4 per cent turnout overall.

Pollster Darrell Bricker and journalist John Ibbitson, authors of The Big Shift, say Trudeau has made a serious political misstep here, because he’s failing to account for the voting power of the largely law-and-order loving Asian immigrant bloc that the Conservatives have worked so hard to woo.

But kids aren’t the only ones smoking pot. Their Gen X parents probably did – and likely still do; and Gen X’s Boomer parents, who made it part of the popular culture in the 1960s and 70s, may still see no problem bringing out the baggie and the rolling papers on a quiet evening with friends.

The war on drugs was lost a generation ago, but governments in Canada and the U.S. can’t seem to bring themselves to leave the battlefield. A 2002 Senate report recommended relaxing the rules around marijuana possession – as a University of Ottawa professor has noted, contrary to what Justice Minister Peter MacKay says, smoking up isn’t the crime, possession and dealing are.

Studies have shown marijuana to be less harmful – in terms of health issues, in terms of social impact – than alcohol and tobacco. And while there is a certain criminal element attached to it, that element is entirely connected to the illegality of the drug. If marijuana weren’t illegal, there’d be no turf wars, no grow-ops bringing down property values, stealing electricity and ruining housing stock. Legalizing it puts the criminals out of business. Regulating it would presumably make it safe to buy and to smoke, and keep it largely out of the hands of people who are too young to have it (as with alcohol and tobacco). Taxing it brings revenue to governments who, at the same time, can spend less money trying to enforce an unenforceable law.

In an excellent article in Maclean’s earlier this summer, Ken MacQueen traced the history of marijuana prohibition in Canada back to Emily Murphy’s 1922 book The Black Candle, in which she quoted the Los Angeles chief of police talking about marijuana users: “Persons using this narcotic smoke the dried leaves of the plant, which has the effect of driving them completely insane.”

That kind of fear-mongering appears to hold little water in a world where the blissed-out flower children of Woodstock went on to become captains of industry. When 57 per cent of Canadians support legalizing marijuana, according to a 2012 Angus Reid survey – including the majority of the 55-and-over age group – you could say the country is in the grip of a collective reefer madness, or you could say that maybe it’s an idea whose time has come.

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Meet the new CBA president

By Kim Covert August 21, 2013 21 August 2013

Meet the new CBA president

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Technology and the future of the legal profession

By Kim Covert August 20, 2013 20 August 2013

Technology has been called one of the major forces behind the changes affecting the legal profession but the dangers of relying on it exclusively became – ironically – apparent during a professional development session on innovation and the future of the legal profession at the CBA Legal Conference in Saskatoon.

The Riverview Law presenter’s YouTube ad kept buffering instead of playing; the Cognition LLP presentation wouldn’t load; and Michelle Crosby of Wevorce in the U.S., who was participating via Skype after missing a flight, kept going offline. Apparently it was a bandwidth problem, but it underscored two things: change isn’t easy; and you can’t put all your eggs in one basket, no matter how innovative.

During her presentation, Crosby led a little exercise in which she asked the session participants to imagine an issue (for anyone who couldn’t think of something, she suggested the fact that lawyers on average first interrupt clients less than 11 seconds into a first meeting), then imagine an action that they’d take to resolve it. One lawyer said the interruption thing was an issue for her, and to resolve it she’d use the timer on her phone to set a minimum amount of time for the client to speak before she could speak.

Not all of the problems – or solutions were technological in nature.

Another lawyer, a sole practitioner, said not being able to take holidays was a chronic problem. Her solution would be to gather together a consortium of sole practitioners to discuss the problem. Perhaps a solution could be agreeing to cover for each other under certain circumstances.

Technology both creates and solves problems in the legal profession. The session was a case in point for intelligent integration into one’s work without making it the be-all and end-all.

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Brand ‘lawyer’: Stability, reliability

By Kim Covert August 20, 2013 20 August 2013

Brand is not a dirty word – and lawyers have one.

One of the things regulators bring to the table is brand protection, says Tim McGee, CEO and ED of the Law Society of British Columbia.

As a result of the regulators’ work, the public can continue to have confidence in lawyers – a stable, reliable, transparent regulator is important to the brand.

And that sort of brand stability is important in an atmosphere of rapid change, whether that change be in terms of technology, economy, business or society.

McGee was part of a panel speaking to in-house lawyers at the CBA Legal Conference in Saskatoon on Monday, along with Natalie Des Rosiers. and Heather Innes, Counsel at GM Canada.

Most regulators are viewed as rocks which can’t be moved, says McGee. With the caveat that the key characteristics of honesty, competency and avoidance of conflict are non-negotiable, he says there is a variety of ways that regulators can change.

“We all have a stake in becoming flexible, nimble and responsive” to make sure opportunities are made the most of, says McGee.

Given the winds of change that are buffetting the profession, “I think it is very important that we work very closely with both regulators and educators so that we can respond in a timely way to what’s happening,” Heather Innes added.

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