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Interview with CBA President Ray Adlington

CBA President Ray Adlington discusses his priorities for the year ahead and the Association’s role in helping legal professionals acquire the skills they need to succeed.

Ray Adlington

Halifax tax lawyer Ray Adlington, a partner at McInnes Cooper, became president of the Canadian Bar Association on September 1. In an interview with CBA National, he discussed his priorities for the year ahead and the Association’s role in helping legal professionals acquire the skills they need to succeed.

CBA National: This is a challenging time for the profession. We’re seeing a variety of new business models challenging traditional firms. Technology is forcing lawyers to reconsider how they both deliver and bill for their services. Law schools are being questioned about whether they’re properly preparing lawyers for the future. The profession is still facing issues surrounding diversity, and the justice system itself under strain. With all that in mind can you tell us what you’ve identified as your priorities for the year ahead?

Ray Adlington: That’s an accurate depiction of where the profession stands today. Before speaking about my personal priority, the priorities the CBA’s Board have identified for the year are increasing member value and enhancing member satisfaction with their CBA experience. Based upon the results of member surveys, the Board has also identified two advocacy priorities for the year: improving access to justice and protecting solicitor/client privilege. We will be communicating back to members over the course of the year as our work progresses.

As a personal priority, I will be focused on advancing inclusivity within the legal profession. We know certain cultural identities are under-represented in our profession generally and in leadership positions particularly.  We know the stigma that attaches to depression and other mental illnesses that does not attach to cancer and other physical ailments. This year, I am looking forward to working with equality-seeking groups and our Wellness Subcommittee to educate members around combating their implicit biases by recognizing them, accepting that they hold them, and then  reflecting that analysis into the judgments made about the different behaviours that other people bring to a particular setting.

N: You’re a cisgendered, heterosexual white man. What does a man like you know about inclusivity?

RA: All true, but my upbringing was itinerant. My father served in the Air Force and we moved around a lot, so I was always the new kid in school. To that degree, I understand what it feels like to be excluded, even though my experience is obviously different from everybody else’s. It is important to remember that people feel exclusion in different settings and in different ways. What I have learned from people, over the years, is how exclusionary behaviours can affect them on a personal and professional level.

Admittedly, I was oblivious to the challenges experienced by women lawyers, lawyers of colour, Indigenous lawyers, LGBTQ lawyers, and lawyers with disabilities for the first decade of my legal career. Watching the experiences of my daughters in the education system and saying farewell to many of my lawyer friends who did not look like me as they left the firm, the city, and occasionally the profession entirely forced me to accept that I benefit from an unfair advantage. For the past five years, I have worked with Ritu Bhasin.  She has both educated me on the effect of differences across the multiple dimensions of behaviour and helped me develop inclusive leadership approaches.

N: We talk a lot in the legal profession about increasing diversity. But you seem to suggest that inclusivity is the bigger challenge?

RA: I believe inclusion is the path to real diversity. The full benefit of diversity won’t be realized until our conformity with mainstream dominant norms is loosened and we embrace our individual differences. We will not gain from the fuller perspectives that diversity offers until we learn to gather and include those perspectives.

N: How can the CBA best help members acquire the skills they need to succeed in a changing industry?

RA: Success should be a personalized definition. We should not all have to adopt traditional notions of what it means to be successful. In that regard, the CBA can help members share their personal success stories so that other members can see that there are different visions of success. That can help inspire members to redefine what success might mean for them, from time to time, as they evolve through their careers and lives.  The notion of success can change over time. It certainly has for me. What I considered success emerging from law school is very different from what I considered success after becoming a parent, which is different again from what I considered success when I joined our management team. All that is very different than what I now consider to be success as the President of the CBA.

The next step is educating members about how to achieve their definition of success through career mentoring. We can help lawyers navigate the modern legal career path that might see them in and out of private practice, in and out of public practice, in and out of in-house counsel practice, and in and out of any other type of opportunity that utilizes their legal skills out there over the course of their career.  The modern law career is much more like hopscotch than it used to be. This is an important area where the CBA can help.

N: What about advocacy?

RA: Advocacy is one of the core elements of the CBA. It is how our members collectively make an impact upon our society. As the complexity of law increases, the need for CBA advocacy increases along with it.  This is particularly true in the two core areas identified as priorities by the Board: access to justice and solicitor/client privilege. In access to justice matters, there are many ways that the CBA can and will make our case to government, to the courts and to the profession itself. As for solicitor/client privilege, we must always be vigilant about possible government intrusions and protect privilege to the maximum extent possible.

It’s also essential we advocate on behalf of the profession: we have to talk about lawyers who suffer from mental health illnesses. The CBA has a role to encourage lawyers to also look after their physical health. Ultimately, a healthy lawyer delivers a better service to the client than an unhealthy one.

N: If the next government could grant the CBA three wishes, what do you think we’d ask for?

RA: First, meet their commitment to fill judicial vacancies across the country. Second, increase the resources that are available to the courts’ administration services to increase their technological capability and improve transparency. Third, require cultural competency training and annual refreshers for all government lawyers beginning with those involved in the criminal justice system.