“A lawyer’s duty to act with civility does not exist in a vacuum. Rather, it exists in concert with a series of professional obligations that both constrain and compel a lawyer’s behavior”. Groia v. The Law Society of Upper Canada (2018)
Lawyers of all calls fall easily into the trap of thinking of the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) solely as a regulator, no doubt mindful of the need to complete the filings and other observances required to maintain the distinction of a member in good standing. In part, this may be because the LSO at its founding described its main function as ensuring that all persons who practiced law in Ontario were competent, followed proper procedures and behaved ethically. That continues to be the case today, but that description has expanded in the years since 1797 to encompass much more than that, and it is helpful for new and junior calls in particular, but more to the point for all of us to remember the various practice supports and resources that the LSO provides, including the following (unless otherwise noted, sourced from the LSO Website):
The LSO offers “shorter-term, outcome-oriented relationships” to lawyers and paralegals with coaches and advisors drawn from these professions (Coach and Advisory Network – CAN), whose goal is to support the implementation of best practices (coaches) and assist with substantive and procedural law inquiries on client files (advisors). Coaching is increasingly understood as a constructive enterprise and the goal of coaching is multilayered: it is to help the subject achieve aspirations, to give a sense of responsibility and ownership, to assist in skill development and leadership, and to develop initiative and encourage responsibility, for the benefit of both the subject and the organization (Leaders Guide to Coaching and Mentorship, Brent and Dent, FT Publishing). I suspect that it is because of this multi-layering that the LSO acknowledges that lawyers and paralegals need different types of support at different times, allowing CAN to serve as a complement to existing mentorship programs in Ontario.
Health and Wellness
It is of course widely understood that mental health and wellness issues are and will remain an abiding product of the COVID – 19 era, increasing LSO concerns over stress and anxiety already experienced by members. According to a survey from 2012 by the Canadian Bar Association 58% of lawyers, judges, and law students surveyed had experienced significant stress/burnout, 48% had experienced anxiety and 25% had suffered from depression. The LSO provides a Member Assistance Program (MAP) through Homewood Health, a provider of mental health and addition services. MAP is a confidential service funded by and fully independent of the LSO and LawPRO. Its mandate “is to provide secure, single sign-on or telephone access to counselling, coaching, online resources and peer volunteers, regarding issues related to addictions, mental or physical health, work-life balance, career, family and more”. The LSO approved its mental health strategy in 2016, and it has been rolling out various initiatives since then. MAP has been recognized as a top program by the Employee Assistance Society of North America.
Experts agree that building a company culture where everyone feels included is a significant investment of time and ongoing effort, and encourage taking a holistic approach to ensure you have the right building blocks for your initiatives to take root. Ways to improve EDI in the workplace include creating a safe space for feedback, avoiding tokenism, turn on pronouns, acknowledge and accommodate for diverse holidays, and seeking out guidance.
Mercer has recently reported on 2021 global trends amid the COVID-19 disruption identifying Equity, Diversion and Inclusion (EDI) as “a vital differentiator to attracting, retaining and engaging talent”.
The LSO’s EDI mandate is to ensure access to justice, through the inclusion of equity and diversity values and principles in its policies, programs and procedures. In “seeking to ensure that both law and the practice of law are reflective of all the peoples of Ontario, including Indigenous Peoples, Francophones and equity-seeking communities”, the LSO “works to ensure that its workplace and the legal profession are free of harassment and discrimination”.
The LSO promulgates rules of professional conduct which govern the conduct of every lawyer and paralegal. Through 6 substantive chapters these rules address integrity, client relationships, protocols which govern the practice of law, relationships and responsibilities to the administration of justice, relationships to students, employees and others, and relationships to the LSO and other lawyers. These rules “set out the constraints within which Ontario’s lawyers must operate, at least insofar as professional conduct is concerned, so that, at a minimum, the public may have confidence in the legal profession and the justice system more generally”. Each of these chapters is must reading, frequently, and of course the rules are modified and updated from time to time, and each is annotated with instructive commentary. As noted above, the rules are seen as regulatory, however, what they do in the aggregate is provide the underlying foundation enhancing regard for the practice of law as a service profession.
Recently the Ontario Bar Association announced the opening of a Law Practice Management Section page. The LSO offers Practice Management Guidelines as practical tools to assist lawyers in assessing, maintaining and enhancing their quality of service. These guidelines, in a general framework, focus on eight practice management issues: client service and communication, file management, financial management, technology, professional management, time management, personal management, and closing down your practice. In addition, the LSO addresses particular practice management topics and issues which arise from time to time.
A lawyer’s professional judgment is key, and the LSO properly emphasizes that lawyers are responsible for their own judgment. But the LSO does more than assist lawyers with understanding their obligations. The above-noted supports and resources address the comfort, security and well-being of members. The on-going availability and undoubted expansion of these resources will continue to assist lawyers and paralegals cope with the environment within which that judgment is exercised.