At the Intersection of Intention and Impact


At the Intersection of Intention and Impact

Like many people, I get regular emails from my mom with links or snippets from interesting tidbits she’s come across on the internet. Luckily for me, my mom is recently retired from a career in international development, so I actually appreciate and enjoy most of what she sends me. At the very least, it usually makes me think.

After reading my last BarTalk column, because of course she does, my mom sent me a quote from Jack Himmelstein at the Center for Understanding in Conflict “We judge ourselves by our intentions: we judge others by the effects of their actions on us.” It’s a deceptively simple statement but one that, for many of us, invites a profound shift in the way we view ourselves and the way we interact with the world around us. I don’t just mean a shift in the way we approach interpersonal interactions, as I’ve written about in my last two columns, although those are important. I’m also talking about our work as lawyers, and how we interact with each other and our clients. It’s an invitation to all of us to think about our impact on the world, rather than just our intentions or motivations, and whether the way we perceive ourselves and our profession is reflected in the impact we have.

I was reminded of this quote again when reading Harry Cayton’s “Report of a Governance Review of the Law Society of British Columbia”, a document that recommends some significant changes to the functioning of the Law Society and regulation of lawyers in British Columbia. It is essential reading for every lawyer in this province, and CBABC will continue to work on behalf of members in discussion with the Law Society about the Report’s recommendations.

One area that stood out to me, and where my mind connected to the quote above, is when the Report made reference to the public interest. Consider this statement, on p. 20:

In discussion with Benchers, observations of meetings and readings of Society policy papers I have struggled to find explicit arguments articulated as to why policies that affect the way lawyers go about their business are necessarily in the public interest.

As anyone who pays attention to the working of the Law Society can tell you, their expressed intentions are to act in the public interest. But if we’re inviting the Law Society to shift its focus from judging its actions by the intention behind them, to the impact of them, then these expressed intentions are not where we need to be looking.

Consider the Triple Aim Access to Justice Measurement Framework, developed by Access to Justice BC. The Law Society of BC is a signatory to Triple Aim, yet their intentions don’t help us in any way understand the impact of their regulation of lawyers on access to justice on the ground. Do regulations that are intended to protect the public actually result in lawyers having to do so much administrative work that they have to increase their fees to cover the time? Do regulations that are intended to protect the public result in disincentives for lawyers to engage in solo or small firm practice, or practice in smaller communities? Are regulations modernized to be efficient and effective in the current age, thus not restricting lawyers unduly? Do they promote or inhibit the provision of meaningful client service?

COVID-19 has resulted in significant changes to the justice system and the ways in which we have had to shift in providing services to clients. This has spurred the Law Society to consult with members and, at their last Benchers meeting, agree to embark upon a review of their regulations. We need to make sure that the review is focused on the impact on lawyers, the public, and meaningful access to justice.

Shifting our focus away from judging ourselves and our work on our intentions, and toward a judgement of our impacts, requires listening, learning, and challenging our self-perceptions. This is no less true for the Law Society and our profession writ large than it is for each one of us individually. I believe it’s the only way to really create meaningful change, and I look forward to those discussions with the Law Society and with you.