The Benefits of Adjudication

Why you should be on administrative tribunals

The Benefits of Adjudication

I have been practising law since 2010. For more than half of that time I have also been a member of various provincial and federal administrative tribunals. Being a member on these tribunals has made me a better lawyer and provided me with a rewarding experience. I want to take some time in this article to explain how this is so.

Outside of my work as a tribunal member, I carry on a litigation practice focused on administrative law. Being a tribunal member has instilled in me the importance of salient and focused argument in my practice. I’ve learned that argument is important but pales in comparison to well organized and presented facts and evidence. Tribunal members are generally tasked with making quick decisions with less than fulsome information. There are significant time constraints. In my role as an independent chairperson with Correctional Services Canada, I hear between 20 and 40 inmate disciplinary matters over 3-4 hours. That means as little as 6 minutes to review a file, take pleas, hear evidence, analyze the facts, make a determination, and (when relevant) order a sanction. Having counsel present who understand the facts, and can distill the most relevant points into a brief and focused argument can be extremely persuasive. I have incorporated that theory into my practice. I believe it has made me a stronger advocate.

Adjudication can be a personally rewarding experience. Many administrative tribunals do not lend themselves to robust legal practices because financial remuneration is difficult, the work is too ad hoc, or the service is contracted through legal programs. The Mental Health Review Board is a prime example. The Tribunal has jurisdiction over civil detentions under the Mental Health Act for those persons who pose a danger to themselves or others due to a mental disorder. Given the population involved, it is an area of law that would be challenging to incorporate into a legal practice. Further, the Community Legal Assistance Society is contracted to provide advocacy services for applicants. However, as a tribunal member, I am able to regularly participate in these hearings. I have found it personally rewarding to participate in a process that ensures the balance between personal freedom and non-consensual healthcare intervention.

How you decide can be the difference between financial security and destitution. The Social Security Tribunal hears appeals for denials of Employment Insurance, Canada Pension Plan, and Old Age Security benefits. The Tribunal ensures appropriate entitlement to income security and social safety net benefits. The implications of my decisions are manifest. It is the difference in foreclosures, sustenance, and continued independence. It is a burden to know these things and the implications of my decisions. While the law governs how I decide each case, I am able to take satisfaction in knowing I have provided claimants with a fair shake at obtaining benefits.

Outside of the core work, I have gained considerably from the education attached to adjudicative work. I have had learning sessions led by seasoned administrative law experts, former justices of the Supreme Court of Canada, and current jurists. The educational opportunities I’ve received have again supported my development as a lawyer and would be less available to me outside of my role as an adjudicator.

My advice to any lawyer is look into opportunities for appointment. Many Tribunals require little time away from practice and all offer at least some form of remuneration. For provincial appointments you can go to the Crown Agencies and Board Resourcing Office. For federal appointments, go to the Governor in Council appointments website or search the individual ministry pages.

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