A time for more – not less – unity
by Russell W Lusk, QC
The latest screed against universal Canadian Bar Association membership just crossed my desk. It calls for ending the half-century tradition of universality that the lawyers of British Columbia debated and freely voted to institute in the 1940s, and have freely voted to continue every year since.
Is a move away from universal membership wise economically? Is it wise professionally? Is it fair? I suggest that the answer to all of these questions is a clear “no.”
Universality benefits the profession at large. And indeed, lawyers today need a strong unified voice to promote and defend our interests. Law Societies have a statutory mandate to deal with governance of the legal profession, but that mandate must be carried out in the public interest. The Canadian Bar Association also has a mandate – to act on behalf of the interests of the legal profession.
The CBA is a respected and effective voice – whether dealing with issues of legal aid funding, notaries and immigration consultants, independence of the bar and judiciary, or many other issues, it is an association that is listened to today. It would be an error to underestimate the effectiveness of our provincial organization – it speaks with an authority founded upon its universal membership.
Some have asserted that whether you pay your CBA dues ought to be left up to your personal preference. However, if membership were voluntary, suppose you joined, but your colleague down the street didn’t – what would happen?
Your membership dues would support ongoing CBA advocacy – including interventions with government to successfully fight short-sighted legislation that opposes lawyers or their clients’ interests, and support for campaigns that improve the image of lawyers, making people rethink their long-held stereotypes and see us for the essential service we provide. You would benefit – but so would your colleague, who paid nothing.
Fairness dictates that everyone should make a contribution. There will always be differing views as to individual benefits derived from fees paid, including those paid to law societies. Some criminal lawyers object to paying high liability insurance premiums, saying it is the real estate lawyers, and not them, who get sued. Others object to high payments to libraries which others use to a greater degree. In our profession, a certain amount of sacrifice for the greater good of all is not unreasonable.
The CBA has a mandate given to it through a democratic vote of its members to defend the interests of our profession and to do so strenuously, effectively and continuously. The idea of moving away from universal membership is, I suggest, going in the opposite direction to that in which our profession should be going. Never in the history of our profession has there been a greater need for everyone to be a participant.
There is strength in unity. That is a position that has served our profession effectively for decades. It is a tradition worthy of defending and maintaining.
Russell W Lusk QC served as the President of the BC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association during 1989/90 and as National President during 1996/97.
This article was published in the August 2002 issue of BarTalk. © 2002 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.