For the first time in almost three decades, the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society has a new executive director.
Tilly Pillay, former director of litigation with the provincial justice department, says that while the road ahead for lawyers in Nova Scotia is veering sharply from what has come before, those changes have been discussed since she was NSBS president in 2014 and are now inherent in the way the society operates. “Council has a strategic framework. My job now is to make that strategic framework a reality,” says Pillay, who officially took over the society reins earlier this year.
“We need to put our resources in areas where risk is greatest,” she adds. “We are already starting to shift resources to the front end. Firms now register when they open. We are developing a relationship.”
In addition to the move to a Triple P approach (which stands for proactive, principled and proportionate) and away from overseeing individual lawyers, the society is focusing its efforts on enhancing diversity and cultural competence. As a woman of colour, Pillay reflects the society’s commitment to those values. “We’re showing members [the society] is living up to its message. We have to do that across the organization.”
The Dalhousie law grad notes that the issues facing lawyers in Nova Scotia are both similar to those with which lawyers across the country are grappling and also unique. In particular are ongoing challenges faced by African Nova Scotian and indigenous communities. Those challenges were highlighted in the 1989 report from the Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall, Jr., prosecution.
It’s time to start taking the issue of systemic discrimination more seriously, says Pillay. Now, she notes, the tenor of the recommendations in the Marshall report have been reiterated by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. “How many more reports and how many more recommendations do you need before someone does something about it?”
Pillay’s actions will be reflective. “People need to know I will be careful and slow in articulating what is to come, but I will be focused.”
She will also be inclusive. Partnerships are central to her way of working. For example, Pillay believes the only way to address the systemic racism and related judicial issues in Nova Scotia starts from a collective foundation.
Pillay, who worked with Nova Scotia Legal Aid before joining the Department of Justice, says the top spot at NSBS appealed to her for personal and professional reasons. As president when “entity regulation” was first conceived, Pillay has been actively involved with the society’s and the profession’s transformation over the last four years.