CBA reinventing itself with smaller board, shorter annual conference

The Canadian Bar Association annual meetings often became the summer vacation destination for many lawyers and their families, held in a different locale each August, but changing attitudes mean a slimmed-down version of the conference this year and fewer board members.

This year’s CBA annual general meeting will be held this Thursday, Aug. 17 from 1 to 3:30 p.m. at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal where the membership will debate and vote on new CBA bylaws and regulations, the need for a national commissioner for children and youth and a denunciation of the violence against gay and bisexual men in Chechnya.

Members who can’t get to Montreal can attend one of about 20 hubs across the country all linked together electronically to view the AGM and participate and debate in the resolution.

“It means the members have the opportunity to participate in the AGM and the decisions of the organization of they choose to. My hope, down the road, is we can reach people who can’t travel to a hub and can join in with their laptop,” says Simmons.

The previous three-day AGM, held more recently over weekends, were no longer practical for members, says Simmons.

“We were seeing the numbers decline, but we asked why is this happening and responded accordingly,” she says.

“Members told us their holiday time is very precious and if they are going to have a holiday with their family they do not want it to incorporate a legal conference for one of the people in that family,” says Simmons. “From a business perspective, travelling to come to the annual meeting for three days, it was not a priority for spending. They said they would rather attend conferences focused on their area of law.”

That means the CBA immigration law and criminal law conferences will still take place.

Members have indicated they want the association to focus on providing services and training to help them be successful lawyers and improve their skillsets, knowledge base and profile.

In February 2016, the CBA set a strategic direction for the next few years and looked at how to improve its governance so those making decisions can do so more quickly and efficiently. This is the first year with a smaller board of directors and with the one-day conference.

The board has moved to 14 members from the previous 24 members, which reduces the cost of governance and means it will hopefully be more efficient during meetings.

“We hope it will help us make more timely decisions and still allow us to get engagement from members across the country,” says Simmons. “If you think about having a discussion about something and you want to hear from 24 people, that’s going to take some time on that single issue.”

The incoming 2017/2018 board of directors is also more diverse — from the perspective of gender, practice and geography. There is an even number of women and men with representation from across the country.

“It was very important in terms of what we wanted to see in our new board,” says Simmons. “We definitely have achieved that with the most diverse board I think CBA national has ever had. That shows there are opportunities for everyone in this organization to be leaders and I want that message to be clear.”

Simmons says CBA board members have often developed leadership skills through the CBA and gone on to become benchers of law societies or working on legal aid boards in their provinces.

In April, the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association will host its annual conference from April 29 to May 1, 2018 in Toronto when it will also celebrate its 30th anniversary. The theme will be “Beyond Borders: Business and Law in The Global Village.”

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