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Treasurer's Message

Teresa Donnelly headshotIn June 2020, amidst a global pandemic, I was honoured to become the Law Society’s fifth woman Treasurer. While the profound effects of the pandemic overshadowed much of 2020, it also showed the resilience and fortitude within the legal professions. As the world came to a standstill in March 2020, lawyers and paralegals worked to continue to serve their clients and the justice system, adapting to an online environment, adjusting their business practices and, for many, working harder than ever. For some legal professionals, the challenges were even greater as they struggled to assist their clients to access justice as the physical spaces for dispute resolution closed.

At the Law Society, benchers, senior management and staff came together in new ways to support our licensees in these turbulent times. We issued guidance on virtual commissioning and notarizing, remote client identification/verification and business practices during the pandemic. As the pandemic restricted public gatherings throughout the later spring and summer, we adopted online licensing exams, approved virtual paralegal education and replaced the traditional call to the bar with administrative calls and a Welcome to the Professions virtual celebration. Towards the end of 2020, we approved a program enabling licensees to defer their annual fees, if they are suffering financially.

Our traditional work also continued, albeit in different venues – CPD programs were offered, licensees were assisted by the Practice Management Helpline and discipline hearings moved online. Benchers met remotely to deliberate on policy issues, approving (among other things) contingency fee reforms and a consultation on a proposed Family Legal Services Provider licence.

As the pandemic wore on in 2020, many of us were isolated, uncertain about the future and watching tragedies unfold in Ontario and elsewhere. Perhaps we felt more vulnerable and therefore appreciated the vulnerability of others, particularly those in marginalized and racialized communities. As I said in June of last year, I have heard the impassioned cries for justice, following fatal encounters between police forces and Black, Indigenous and racialized individuals. Racism and discrimination undermine justice, they undermine the rule of law. 

Both the Law Society and legal professionals have clear duties in pursuit of justice. Combatting racism and discrimination in all forms is part of that duty and, at its best, that duty encompasses an active effort to make our institutions and justice system more diverse and inclusive.

Not only has the pandemic focused our attention on the vulnerabilities of others, it has reminded us of our own fragility, particularly regarding mental health and wellness. We need to look after ourselves. We need to look out for, and after, each other. We cannot continue our important legal work without self-care and being mindful of the impacts of poor mental health — individually and collectively.

A key resource for Law Society licensees, law students, paralegal students, licensing candidates and eligible family members is the Member Assistance Program or MAP. It provides a full range of professional and confidential services and supports. I urge members to review the Law Society website at LSO.ca/YourSource or visit myassistplan.com.

As I reflect on 2020 — and the first half of this year — I am struck by what we have missed but also what we have learned – about our own strengths and fragility, the importance of our work in the justice system and our need to come together and look after each other. The pandemic will end and, I believe, we will emerge from it stronger and wiser.

I extend my gratitude to each of you and a particular thanks to CEO Diana Miles for her strong leadership during this challenging time. Stay safe and well.

Teresa Donnelly, Treasurer

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