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Treasurer's message

Teresa Donnelly headshotAs we enter the third year of the pandemic, and as I reflect on 2021, I continue to be struck by what we have missed but also by 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. 

We are living through an extraordinary time. While we yearn for the pandemic to end, we continue to navigate the uncertainties of work, dependant care, schooling and more, all while trying to keep our loved ones safe and maintain some sense of control and certainty. While I am optimistic better days are ahead, the ravages of the pandemic will continue to be felt for years as we grapple with long-term medical, economic, legal and mental health challenges.

Mental health and wellness
None of us are immune — lawyers, paralegals, students, clients, employees — from the personal and professional pressures of the pandemic.

As legal professionals, we are under increasing demands. We need to be aware of them, to understand their impacts and to reach out for help when needed. It is through self-care and supporting each other that we are able to continue our important work in the justice system. 

Continuing to engage and interact with lawyers, paralegals and students in a meaningful way is a priority for me in support of our individual and collective well-being. Although public health measures dictated that most engagements be held virtually, these opportunities were vital to strengthening connections between the Law Society, members and with each other.

In 2021, I was honoured to co-host the Law Society’s inaugural Mental Health for Legal Professionals Summit where lawyers and paralegals shared their experiences and strategies aimed at building awareness, educating and reducing stigma associated with mental illness. The more we have these open discussions, the closer we are to moving from stigma to acceptance and support.

Each of us needs to champion lawyer and paralegal well-being and prioritize it at all stages of our careers. The Law Society is well positioned to support members with expert professional help and peer support offered through the Member Assistance Program, coaching and advice through the Coach and Advisor Network, and assistance with pressing practice management or ethical issues through the Practice Management Helpline.

Commitment to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
In 2021, we saw the tragic uncovering of hundreds of unmarked burial sites of children at former residential schools. The devastation caused by the residential school system continues to harm survivors, their families and Indigenous communities across the country. These tragedies highlight the need for the Law Society’s ongoing work on implementing the four foundational pillars of our Indigenous Framework: creating and enhancing cultural competency; achieving and improving access to justice; promoting and supporting knowledge of Indigenous Legal Systems; and taking action on Reconciliation.

At home in Canada and around the world, we continued to witness violence, discrimination and racism. Racism and discrimination undermine justice. They undermine the rule of law. We have clear duties in pursuit of justice. Combatting racism and discrimination in all forms encompasses an active effort to make our institutions and justice system more diverse and inclusive. Diverse legal professions promote the public interest and further access to justice. 

We all have a role to play — collectively and individually — in combatting systemic racism and racial discrimination and building a fair and just society for all.

Law Society updates
While the provision of legal services fluctuated from online, to in person, to a blend of the two, what remained steady was the work of lawyers and paralegals in providing essential services and access to justice for Ontarians. 

At the Law Society, our public interest work continued. We developed the Rights of Appearance Pilot Project to allow lawyer licensing candidates to attend to an increased number of family law matters. We launched Access to Innovation, a five-year pilot project to allow approved providers of innovative technological legal services to operate in Ontario while complying with risk-based public protection requirements. We continued to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. With a view to enhancing consumer protection, improving transparency and fairness for clients, we implemented Contingency Fee reforms

Looking to the future and celebrating the past

While this report details the Law Society’s 2021 operations, I must look forward. The Law Society marks its 225th anniversary in 2022 — a milestone deserving of recognition.

Founded in 1797, the creation of the Law Society as a self-governing body was an innovation and became the model for law societies across Canada. The Law Society was created to ensure that all persons who practise law in Ontario were competent, followed proper procedures and behaved ethically. More than two centuries later, these remain the core of the Law Society’s public interest mandate.

As my term as Treasurer comes to an end, I am reminded that self-governance is no less a privilege today than it was 225 years ago. To maintain the privilege of self-governance, the public interest must always be of paramount concern to the Law Society.  

I congratulate the Law Society on this milestone anniversary and share my gratitude for the dedicated work of benchers, the unwavering leadership of CEO Diana Miles and for everyone at the Law Society for their commitment to honouring and maintaining its important public interest mandate. It has been one of the great honours of my career to serve as Treasurer of the Law Society. Stay safe and well.

Teresa Donnelly, Treasurer

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