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Reflecting on 2021 and what lies ahead

Reflecting on 2021 and what lies ahead

By: Teresa Donnelly, Treasurer | February 02, 2022

As 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 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 out for each other. 

Continued uncertainty

In the early months of 2022, we continue to witness the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on our daily lives both personal and work. Juggling the demands of working from home with other demands including dependent care, education and family stability is challenging.  Many people – lawyers, paralegals, students, clients, employees – are feeling the pressures. And yearning for an end to the pandemic. The increased demands require each of us to be aware of them, to understand their impacts and to reach out for help when needed. It is only through self care and supporting each other that we are able to continue our very important work in the justice system. From expert professional help offered through the Member Assistance Program, to coaching and advice offered through the Coach and Advisor Network, to assistance with pressing practice management or ethical issues through the Practice Management Helpline, the Law Society is well positioned to support licensees with competent, ethical practice.

Strengthening connections

While tempting to cocoon at home against the pandemic and wait for it to pass, our work as lawyers and paralegals providing access to justice for the public requires us to continue our essential services in pursuit of justice. Our public interest work at the Law Society, as the legal regulator in Ontario, also demanded that we take action. For me, that included not only setting and moving the policy agenda but also continuing to engage and interact with lawyers, paralegals and students to strengthen connections and understand how we can support each other. In 2021, I participated in 132 engagements with more than 23,000 attendees. While most of our public engagements have continued to be held virtually, I was thrilled to have had an opportunity to engage some of our partners in person, whenever it was safe to do so.

Law Society updates

While maintaining financial and operational stability were all that some organizations could achieve in 2021, the Law Society did all that and increased our policy work. None of which would have been possible without the vision, dedication, and determination of CEO Diana Miles and her senior executive team who were relentless in their quest to ensure that the Law Society continued to honour and implement its public interest mandate. We focussed on law students and passed policies to enhance their experiential training and launched the Rights of Appearance Pilot Project to allow eligible lawyer licensing candidates to attend to an increased number of family law maters. In an increasingly technological world, we were active. We approved the continuation of online Licensing examinations and allowed some components of paralegal education to be offered remotely. We launched Access to Innovation, a five-year pilot project that allows approved providers of innovative technological legal services to operate in Ontario while complying with risk-based public protection requirements. We continued our work in combatting money laundering and terrorist financing by implementing new Anti-Money Laundering Requirements which are comprehensive, effective, and up to date. With a view to enhancing consumer protection, improving transparency and fairness for clients, we implemented Contingency Fee reforms. We expanded our access to justice work through Access to Justice Week 2021 by reaching 2,670 attendees participating in 25 virtual programs across the country. Continuing our access to justice work, we showcased, the important work that paralegals play in helping Ontarians access the justice system.

Mental health and wellness

Of all the public engagements which I participated in 2021, the event that drew the largest audience with 4300 registrants was the Mental Health Summit. I was honoured to co-host the Summit with Beth Beattie, a passionate advocate for the mental health of legal professionals. With lawyers and paralegal speakers sharing lived experience insights and strategies, we aimed to build awareness, educate and reduce stigma. I hope that you will attend the second Mental Health Summit being held on May 3, 2022 from 9 am – 1 pm. Together we can break the stigma. 

Equality, diversity, and inclusion

In 2021, we witnessed the tragic uncovering of many hundreds of unmarked burial sites of children at former residential schools and the devastating harm caused by the residential school system continues to impact survivors, their children, their families and their communities. These tragedies highlight the important work that the Law Society needs to conduct, together with the Indigenous Advisory Group, regarding the implementation of the Law Society’s Indigenous Framework and the recommendations of the Review Panel on Regulatory and Hearing Processes Affecting Indigenous Peoples. 

We saw hate-filled violence, discrimination and racism targeting a number of groups and their allies. 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. Diverse inclusive legal professions promote the public interest and  further access to justice. As Treasurer, I remain committed to reconciliation and to equality, diversity, and inclusion initiatives in the legal professions. We all have a role to play individually and collectively to combat systemic racism and racial discrimination and build a fair and just society for all.

Looking ahead with optimism

Despite the challenges of 2021, I continue to be hopeful for the future and what we can accomplish together. I extend my gratitude to each of you and a particular thanks to CEO Diana Miles for her continued strong leadership during this challenging time. Stay safe and well.

Teresa Donnelly
Treasurer, Law Society of Ontario

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