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Real influence is about more than one person

Our August issue includes our most popular story of the year — the Top 25 Most Influential — where we take stock of the lawyers, judges and others in the legal profession who are having an impact. This is my first year overseeing the process from beginning to end — observing the reaction to last year’s list (when I first started at Canadian Lawyer), seeking nominations for this year, encouraging lawyers from across the country to vote, selecting the finalists and then deciding what to highlight about their impressive accomplishments.

One thing that struck me about the process is how picking one person can often be misleading. For many of the accomplishments cited in the winners’ bios, they were only one of a huge number of people who were instrumental to an initiative’s success. The winners may have led, but they did not act alone.

Take Suzanne Anton. We heard from many lawyers in British Columbia about her accomplishments and how she effectively tackled access to justice in her province. A high-profile former politician, a former general counsel at a resource company and prominent lawyers in private practice all sing her praises.

But the province itself, and many of the individuals who work in its justice system, should be also recognized. When we covered the fallout from Jordan earlier this year, B.C. was singled out as an example of a province that is tackling the underlying problems of court delays by focusing on the real culprit: the low-level offences and processes gumming up the system. Anton has certainly shown crucial leadership on this front by pushing for immediate roadside prohibitions, which move drinking and driving matters from the courts to an administrative process, and launching the civil resolution tribunal, an innovative online dispute resolution tribunal for small claims disputes tied into the public justice system. But there are many other actors who have made these changes possible, including the lawyers, politicians and citizens of B.C. who have supported Anton’s initiatives.

Across the country on the east coast, Nova Scotia’s Barristers’ Society should also be commended for innovation and positive change. Darrel Pink, another Top 25 winner this year, led the charge in that province on regulatory innovation. Like Anton, Pink received much praise for his visionary leadership, including from academics and regulators in other provinces. Pink was described as a “wise leader” who has always had the public interest mandate of the NSBS front and centre in his consideration.  

But, of course, like Anton, Pink’s reforms would not have taken effect without wider support in the province. And now that Nova Scotia has introduced a comprehensive framework on law firm regulation, a key part of the reforms, this has been adopted in principle by B.C. and is under consideration by the Prairie provinces and the Law Society of Upper Canada. Nova Scotia — or at least its legal regulator — is made up of many leaders and innovators. Pink was instrumental, but so were the other members of the NSBS who supported and provided input on the reforms.

Real change, one often hears, requires support from the top. The significant changes in B.C. and Nova Scotia are certainly examples of that. But our justice system is so complex that good ideas can often fall flat at the implementation stage. It is only when leaders gain widespread support and input that they can truly be called influential.