Why We Need to Vote
I will be voting early on Monday, November 2nd, pretty much as soon as the polls open. I’ve looked at the candidates and familiarized myself with the issues. I am ready!
…Yes, I mean Monday, November 2nd and not Tuesday, November 3rd.
It is the Bencher Election, and it is important for us vote.
By way of background for some of the newer folks and older ones who forget from election to election, practicing lawyers elect the board of the Law Society (historically known as Benchers) every three years. While Benchers are elected by lawyers, their mandate is to regulate the legal profession in the public interest.
Benchers do not represent specific geographical regions, but the Rules of the Law Society require that a Bencher be elected from the North, South and Central region.
The Board consists of 24 Benchers, 20 of whom are lawyers and 4 of whom are lay Bencher appointed by the Government of Alberta. The President-Elect, Darlene Scott, is automatically elected, and Benchers have been acclaimed in the Central and Southern Alberta regions.
This year, there are 41 lawyers seeking the 17 remaining spots. You can learn more about these individuals at the Law Society’s Bencher Election website https://election.lawsociety.ab.ca/.
They all look impressive based on their qualifications and experience as disclosed in their candidate statements, but choosing is difficult. Assist decided to ask candidates to complete a short “getting to know you” questionnaire to help our supporters learn more about them as human beings. For an insight into the candidates’ personality, what they find inspiring, how they handle stress and view on lawyer well-being and mental health generally. Check out the responses here. Candidates cannot commit to voting in a certain way, but knowing about who they are may help you feel more comfortable with how they would approach important issues.
You may ask yourself why you should bother learning about the candidates and voting—you are busy, and you juggle important priorities daily.
There are two reasons.
First, your vote matters. There are more than 10,000 active lawyers in Alberta (you have to have active status on September 30, 2020 to be eligible to vote), but candidates were elected in the 2017 election with as few as 825 votes. Due to attrition during the three-year term, 5 additional lawyers who stood for election became Benchers (largely due to judicial appointments and completion of service as President) with votes in the mid-700s.
You don’t have to vote for 17 candidates—you can vote for as many, up to 17, that you feel comfortable having in an oversight role in our profession. It is worth voting even if you only vote for one candidate.
Secondly, the legal profession is at a critical time—you can read the minutes from the public portion of the Bencher meetings on the Law Society website (https://www.lawsociety.ab.ca/about-us/board-and-committees/board-meetings/) to get a feel for some of the initiatives and issues that the Benchers deal with. Some of the key decisions made this year include:
- Suspending the current Continuing Practice Development filing requirements for 2020 and designing a best-practices competency framework.
- Amending the Code of Conduct to include a requirement for technological competency
- Cutting the length or articling from 12 months to 8 months due to the pandemic
- Approving a one-year pilot project in which all hearings will be held via audioconference
- Mandating Indigenous cultural competency.
This is just a few of the weighty issues which will impact lawyers for many years. It is important that we elect decision makers who can act with sensitivity and insight.
The Law Society is at the end of the first year of a five-year Strategic Plan https://documents.lawsociety.ab.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/LSA-Strategic-Plan-Jan-16-2020-WEB.pdf. Entity regulation is not off the table. Access to justice issues remain front and centre, as are Equity, Diversion and Inclusion initiatives. The definition of “competence” has already been expanded to include technological competence, but my personal favourite is the strategic goal of reducing “the stigma related to mental and physical health issues by creating a supportive regulatory environment.”
These issues are complex and nuanced. I have had the opportunity to attend the public portion of Bencher meetings and I have seen how thoroughly and thoughtfully our Benchers consider them. They do not always agree, and it is important to have diversity of opinion.
It is important that the Bencher table reflects the diversity of the profession. I was pleased to see that our candidate pool does not reflect the “male, pale and stale” image.
One category of practitioners who were encouraged to seek office were young lawyers, who have historically not had a voice at the table. There are several early-career lawyers seeking election. Their voice needs to be heard.
There is an interesting analysis of diversity of Law Society boards conducted in 2015. It focuses on the Law Society of Ontario, but the principles apply more broadly. See “Male, Pale, and Stale? Diversity in Lawyers’ Regulatory Leadership” https://www.noelsemple.ca/2016/08/male-pale-and-stale/.
I’m surprised that only 14 of the candidates are women, given that women make up about 45% of the profession, but I am pleased to see more BOPIC representation.
I was thrilled this week to receive an old school hard copy letter asking me to support a candidate. I hope I will receive more—lawyers who I respect telling me why they support a candidate is helpful. There are stringent rules about campaigning, but you can check out the candidates’ official profiles at https://election.lawsociety.ab.ca/home/candidates/ and make sure to see the candidates’ responses to our survey.
In the last election, some lawyer advocacy groups posed questions to prospective benchers. Keep your eyes open for surveys of interest to you, but remember that Benchers are not elected to advocate for a particular point of view that resonates with a community of lawyers but must act in the public interest.
Researching candidates will help you feel confident in voting, and voting allows you to feel connected to what is happening. Understanding the decision-makers may even help us understand the decisions that are made, especially the ones that we don’t like on face value.