Speech from our Incoming President

  • August 18, 2017

A transcript follows.



This is an exciting time to be part of the Canadian Bar Association.

Our fellow members throughout the country are using the CBA to promote fair justice systems, to facilitate effective law reform, and to uphold equality in the legal profession.  Think of the issues we’ve taken on this year:  We’ve intervened in cases such as Trinity Western and Alberta v. University of Calgary.

We’ve advocated for the hiring of more judges, and sat on the first-ever independent advisory board to appoint a new Supreme Court justice. We’ve made submissions on everything from trans rights to immigration detention, and gone to bat over proposed changes to tax law that would have a negative impact on members. And that’s just a small taste of the work we do every day.

Our members contribute to access to justice initiatives across the country. They keep the CBA at the forefront of the discussion about the present and future of the legal profession. They help shape the laws that govern us and advocate for the rule of law here and around the world.

Our members are amazing.  We here in this room and in hubs from coast to coast to coast are collectively using the CBA to maintain our professionalism, advance our careers and contribute to the betterment of our profession and society.  We are better lawyers because of the CBA.

I know this, because my career is proof that it works. I’ve been a proud member since law school. The CBA offered me a place to use my organizational skills and build my referral network for my litigation practice, and gave me access to mentors.   These opportunities helped me develop my communication and diplomacy skills and enhance my reputation. They made me a better lawyer.

As a mid-career lawyer, I use the CBA to work on law and policy reform. This work gives me a better understanding of the issues facing the administrators of justice and the opportunity to offer constructive solutions on behalf of the profession.  Thinking about the bigger picture ensures that I keep up with legal developments and gives me more tools to help my clients achieve their goals.

How do you use the CBA? Maybe you’re building a cross-country network. Maybe you’re learning how to adapt to the changing legal market. Maybe the stories of perseverance and success in our profession that get told around figurative campfires at in-person meetings inspire and challenge you to do more.

Members like you tell us that to thrive, they need access to skill development and knowledge at every stage of their career.  They want connections to other lawyers for business development, mentorship, support and national advocacy.  They need efficient and effective programs and services because their time is increasingly valuable and in short supply. They rely on the strength of the CBA’s reputation to lead change in our country and internationally.

And they rely on the skills and knowledge of their fellow members.  The connections it helps us make with other members, that sense of community we feel when working with our colleagues across the country, set the CBA apart from other professional groups.

The two people who placed the President’s Chain of Office on me each demonstrate the powers of connection and possibility that we have in the CBA. I want to tell you a bit about them and why I asked them to join me today.

Preston Parsons is the incoming Chair of the CBA Young Lawyers Section.  I first met Preston in 2011, the year he won the Rowan-Legg Award recognizing the accomplishments he made as a CBA student member from the University of British Columbia.  Since then, Preston has deepened his involvement in the CBA, serving as the chair of several sections in British Columbia, sitting on the Provincial Council, and becoming an elected representative from Vancouver – an astounding feat for a young lawyer. He has served on the executive of both SOGIC and the national Young Lawyers Section for several years.

In each of these roles, Preston does two key things:  he learns as much as he can through the role and he shares his knowledge and enthusiasm for the CBA with his fellow lawyers.  Preston is widely recognized as a CBA leader who is proud to give back to his profession – and he is really good at it too.  He is a great example of the young lawyers we have in this country.

In addition to being an employment lawyer at Overholt Law in Vancouver, Preston is working hard to ensure that young lawyers see the possibilities the CBA offers them.  He speaks to them from experience: he was mentored by key senior leaders from the moment he became a CBA member. This year Preston, in his role as Chair of Young Lawyers, will join me at several of the events that normally only the President would attend. I want Preston to have the opportunity to further develop his leadership skills and I know he will use what he learns for the benefit of young lawyers in the CBA.   Preston’s example gives me confidence that the CBA has a strong future.  

Caroline Nevin is the Executive Director of the BC Branch of the CBA.  Just as Preston represents excellence in the CBA membership, Caroline represents excellence in the CBA staff. The CBA is an organization of volunteers supported by professionals who apply their knowledge for our benefit. From the executive directors and CEO to the section administrators having daily contact with section chairs, and everyone in between, CBA staff have the opportunity to positively influence and guide members as we organize, advocate and connect. They can act as mentors too – Fran Hodgkins was BC’s section co-ordinator when I first engaged with the CBA. She encouraged me to become a section chair, and she showed me how to navigate the CBA early in my career. 

I know that many of you can identify members of the CBA staff team who have positively influenced your experience in the CBA. Without these people, we would be hard pressed to use the CBA to our advantage.

In addition to representing our excellent staff, Caroline is here because through our eighteen years of working together in the CBA, she has become not only a mentor and role model, but also a very good friend. Caroline has demonstrated diplomacy, communication, courage, energy, and, above all, brilliant strategy. I have learned so much from her as she has done her job and helped me do mine as a CBA leader.   She is part of the team of people who challenge me and help me achieve my professional goals and I am extremely lucky to have met her through the CBA.

I have no doubt that each of you has a story about how you became engaged with the CBA, and how and that engagement came through a connection with a fellow lawyer or a staff member.  Those relationships matter.  They are the ones that we must preserve, protect and encourage.

So moving forward to this year, as President, I will focus on two things:  building our membership and completing our governance and operational transformation.

You’ve heard this from me a couple of times already, and I suspect I’m going to be saying it a lot more before my term is over.  I’ll be saying it every chance I get to members and non-members alike, complete with examples of how it’s done: Use the CBA to become a better lawyer.

The CBA has a lot to offer. To build our membership we need to show and tell lawyers what that is. We have to talk about what our members do in the CBA.  Over and over again, we need to point to the achievements of our collective efforts and voice.  We need to show that we ask our members what they need, and then prove that we listen by responding when their needs are within our mandate.

How do we do this? We do this through person-to-person contact.  We target specific groups and we speak to them directly. And we have to keep doing it.  In a volunteer organization such as ours, membership recruitment, retention and reward has to be a core activity.  We might say the same things again and again but we reach new people each time.

As President, not only will I meet our members, I will also seek out non-members during each Branch visit.  But I can’t do it alone.  I need your help.

I need you to remember WHY you are a member of this organization and HOW you used the CBA to be a better lawyer yourself.  And then I need you to share your story with lawyers who aren’t members.

Lawyers join the CBA – and more importantly, remain members – for lots of reasons. There’s the lawyer who believes membership is a core aspect of being a professional.  The lawyer who has developed credibility in his area of practice by speaking to government committees on proposed legislation.  The 50-something lawyer who rejuvenated her career by working on a law reform project.

My message – our message – is that the CBA is not just an association, it is a tool. If you use it you will – say it with me – become a better lawyer. Use it yourself and spread the word to others.

My other focus will be completing our governance and operational transformation.  Even before I was elected as second vice-president in 2015, I was advocating for change within the structure of our organization.  We need co-ordination efficiency, relevance, inclusion and opportunity.  In 18 months we have made several transformations:

  • We have identified how we will achieve our promise to connect members to the people, knowledge and skills they need to successfully practise law in Canada.
  • developed new bylaws
  • elected the most diverse Board of Directors in CBA national history
  • have had a transparent and accessible AGM that did not require many of our fellow members to come to this location and they can now participate in our governance
  • and have begun the process of a co-ordinated financial structure and reporting.

This year there will be more focus on financial operations. The path toward a consolidated budget process will continue.  We will examine the sharing of funding among branches, CCCA, centralized operations and decentralized functions and examine the membership fee.  By 2018, we will decide on changes to be made and implement them.

We will also develop a process for strategically focusing and co-ordinating our advocacy efforts at the national and federal level.  We will review our past council resolutions and determine which require further work.  We will pick up our past successes such as the Reaching Equal Justice report and check in on the progress we’ve made.

Finally, in close collaboration with the nation-wide Management Team, we will make choices on which of our member products and services we will maintain and develop in order to respond to the CBA’s Strategic Directions and needs of our members.

It is going to be a busy year, as usual.  Fortunately you are all in it with me.

For me, that is what the Canadian Bar Association is all about.  A member-driven vehicle through which we, collectively, can do really good work. You are the people who make the CBA a dynamic organization.  You are the ones with the ideas and the time to make those things happen. You are the ones who advocate and persuade law societies, government, and partner organizations to change.

The CBA is nothing without you.  That is why we have to reach out to all our members and potential members and focus on the good we achieve and will continue to achieve.

Together, we can ensure that the CBA continues to be the voice of the legal profession in Canada and maintains our reputation for leadership in professional issues, the rule of law, equality and the administration of justice.

So, are you ready?  Let’s go!