A strong CBA benefits us all
by John D Waddell, QC
Universal CBA membership has meant a lot for the legal profession in BC. It has made possible, more than in any other province, many actions and achievements that are important to the legal profession. Many of us have devoted much of our professional lives to the Association. Some of us have been less involved, but we all benefit from having a strong professional association that stands up for and works hard on behalf of us as lawyers.
Having served as Branch President way back in 1995/96, I am acutely aware of how important universal membership is to the day to day functioning of the Branch. Because of universal membership, the BC Branch has the responsibility and benefit of representing all facets of the profession in this province. This means that the treatment of issues, and the approach to external parties, must be balanced. The Branch cannot proceed on the basis that all members are like-minded. This attribute serves the members most dramatically when we are dealing with external parties. We are seen less as a special interest group than as a body of diverse individuals attempting to achieve the appropriate blend of self interest and public interest. This is consistently recognized by government, other professional associations, the media, and the public.
This credibility allows us to provide discreet and confidential advice on the development of legislation and the achievement of good practical laws. We are trusted by government, in a very practical sense, and we are consulted by the media because we have access to informed representatives of the profession who can speak both knowledgeably and with accountability.
Within the structure of the National Canadian Bar Association, the BC Branch enjoys significant influence. It is the envy of other associations. That envy stems not simply from the fact of universal membership. It is felt because we can utilize all our resources, monetary and otherwise, to the benefit of our members. We are not required to expend those resources in membership drives, promotional exercises and self justification. While there may be value in having to justify the existence of an association, it is less necessary where the association performs its functions so successfully.
In dealing with suppliers to the profession or offering member services to the profession, (think of the Canadian Bar Insurance Association), the ability of the BC Branch to access its entire membership is invaluable. Universal membership allows suppliers to offer significant competitive benefits and to rely upon the Branch to deliver on its part of the bargain.
There are persuasive arguments, advanced on sound principles, against the compulsion of membership. However, that compulsion must be weighed against the benefit of universality. As someone who has seen where the rubber hits the road, universal membership in the CBA remains the sensible and prudent option.
Every year, at the Law Society Annual General Meeting, the opportunity exists for any member to speak, and vote, for or against the motion to include the CBA fee with the Annual Practising Fees of the Law Society. This is the way we do things. We should not make short term decisions, in isolation, or on the basis of limited debate or discussion. Universal membership in the CBA is not something to be squandered on the basis of petulant editorials or in the course of hot issue disputes.
Universal membership means having to accommodate diverse needs and views, and trying hard to find consensus. I believe it’s worth that effort, to have and keep a strong association standing up for us as lawyers, providing tools and education to help us become better lawyers, teaching the public about the justice system and our role in it, and participating in law reform.
John D Waddell QC served as the President of the BC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association during 1995/96.
This article was published in the August 2002 issue of BarTalk. © 2002 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.