Law Society of Alberta adds non-benchers to tribunal

The Law Society of Alberta has appointed a number of non-benchers to serve as adjudicators on its disciplinary tribunal.

The law society recently added 24 new adjudicators to its roster of adjudicators, which now includes benchers, non-benchers and non-lawyers.

The law society has had lay-benchers in the past, who have served on panels, but this was the first time non-benchers were appointed to serve as adjudicators.

“When we think of law societies, we tend think of an ‘organization for lawyers, by lawyers’ — but in practical reality it’s now a mixture of lawyers, paralegals and non-lawyers — all of which reflect the public we serve,” says Eugene Meehan, a lawyer at Supreme Advocacy in Ottawa, specializing in Supreme Court matters, and member of the Alberta bar.

Last year, the Law Society of Alberta announced it would be introducing non-benchers to its tribunal process, and expected to appoint up to 15 non-benchers and 15 members of the public. The law society said the move aligns with one of its goals of becoming a more modern and proactive regulator.

Malcolm Mercer, a bencher with the Law Society of Upper Canada, says bringing non-benchers into the tribunals makes the adjudicative process more transparent and diverse.

“Self regulation allows real advantages . . . It allows the profession to make sure that standards of professionalism are maintained, but it is important that the public have confidence in self regulation,” he says. “And transparency and accountability are both important in making sure the right thing is done, but also important to make sure that the public has confidence that the right thing is being done.”

Mercer added that opening the panels to non-benchers also allows the appointment of experienced adjudicators, who are not benchers, which can add to the skillset of the tribunal.

The Law Society of Alberta also expects that adding a more diverse group to serve on its tribunals will enable it to better represent the public it serves.

While having non-benchers serve as adjudicators is new to Alberta, it’s not uncommon in law societies in other jurisdictions across the country.

In 2013, the Law Society of Upper Canada announced David Wright would become its first non-bencher to serve as full-time chairman of its tribunal. In 2014, the law society, which regulates lawyers in Ontario, also boosted the number of non-bencher adjudicators that sit on its tribunals.

Spokespeople for the Law Society of Alberta were not available for an interview at press time.

Meehan says that allowing more non-benchers to be adjudicators will free up benchers to focus on governance and stay active in their practice. Being a bencher can be so busy in some jurisdictions that it can nearly be a full-time job, he says.

“Benchers in so many other jurisdictions are run ragged juggling so many balls — the benchers’ meetings, committee meetings, discipline hearings, conference calls, e-mails and updates, it’s never ending,” says Meehan.

“Alberta is smart to spread the load on to other broad shoulders.”

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