It’s Personal — Bill 21, Legal Professions Act

 

It’s Personal — Bill 21, Legal Professions Act

On April 10, 2024, the government introduced Bill 21, Legal Professions Act, to transform the regulation of lawyers, allegedly to increase access to legal services. As I write this column a mere 30 days later, the Bill is in committee stage and the legislative session will end May 16 with the Bill expected to pass.

Although two years ago the government announced it would move forward with a single regulator and a single statute to regulate lawyers, notaries and others who might provide legal services, the details were only shared publicly on April 10, 2024. We know that the regulators discussed the development of this legislation for most of that two years, and when the legislation became public, the Law Society of BC opposed the Bill as it failed to protect the public’s interest in having access to independent legal professions governed by an independent regulator. One can conclude that the government didn’t listen to a lot of what LSBC said about regulation.

CBABC has held multiple engagement sessions with lawyers. We did this after the Intentions Paper was introduced in September 2022, after the Public Update in March 2024 and after Bill 21 was introduced. Throughout this period, our Professional Issues Committee, chaired by Clare Jennings, KC, has been responsible for developing the CBABC submissions to government. The submissions are based not only on members’ views, but also research and review of regulation standards, alternative regulatory systems Canada and the world, and CBA reports on regulatory systems and access to justice.

Attorney General Sharma asserted that the government consulted with CBABC. When the Bill was introduced, CBABC announced that it did not support the Bill. Again, one can reach a conclusion.

While the Professional Issues Committee maintained a dialogue with government, regulators and others throughout these two years, at various points representatives could not discuss the details of the developing legislation. These restrictions prevented developing a mutual understanding of what would be required to achieve multiple important goals: increasing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, increasing access to legal services, maintaining the public’s access to an independent Bar, creating a single regulator independent of government and modernizing the regulatory framework for the existing regulated professionals.

Without a more collaborative approach in the lead-up to Bill 21, the government created a foundation that enabled conflict upon Bill 21’s introduction. The last 30 days have been difficult to say the least. Relationships which had been built among individuals or entities are now strained. Steps taken to move forward with reconciliation, access to justice or modernization of regulation feel like they have taken a step backward. That is not a good outcome.

Why has this happened? Well, it’s personal. Most people became a lawyer to help people, businesses and institutions achieve their goals. Being a lawyer is an identity that most of us are proud to hold. How we conduct ourselves, following the Code of Professional Conduct and maintaining professional competency standards, requires more than most understand. It is challenging and demands personal sacrifice. And each of you do that every day.

When change happens, even good change, it is stressful. We have to make time to understand, figure out if we agree, propose other ways, reach agreement and adapt. Without that time, the consequence is tension and resistance. With Bill 21, lawyers tells us there hasn’t been enough time with the details. And for those who have been working on this for a while, there hasn’t been enough time to develop mutual agreements to reach a better regulatory framework than we have today.

This issue of BarTalk is about the mental well-being of lawyers. In all our discussions with lawyers, about Bill 21 or other issues, CBABC knows you are constantly adapting to change. Bill 21 represents another change. As we have been doing for the past two years, CBABC will create opportunities for you to know what is happening, and support you in responding to those changes.