Three-year strategic plan includes competency, regulation, promoting wellness
The Law Society of Alberta’s 2024-2026 strategic plan, released earlier this month, emphasizes effective regulation, competency and, for the first time, public confidence. The change aims to clarify the law society’s role in the justice system.
“We wanted to capture these goals in a way that reflects what our role is as the regulator,” says Bill Hendsbee, president of the LSA. “For example, we’ve had access to justice as a goal, but there was recognition that as a regulator, we’re limited by how much we can do. We can work with the courts and government about finding solutions and bring people together to discuss these issues."
Many of the LSA’s initiatives were put under the banner of public confidence, including access to justice, the LSA’s commitment to truth and reconciliation, and equity, diversity and inclusion. The LSA will focus on trust in the legal profession, the administration of justice and the rule of law. Effective regulation and competency are the other strategic goals covered in the plan.
“Our overall vision of serving the public interest stays the same,” says Hendsbee. “Public confidence has been intertwined in past goals, but we wanted to emphasize it in this plan.”
Promoting wellness in the legal profession
Wellness, which was one of the strategic goals in the 2020-2023 strategic plan, is incorporated into the goal of competency to emphasize and normalize mental well-being in the profession. One of the strategic objectives is to develop and support the mental and physical well-being of the legal profession. The 2022 national survey on wellness from the Federation of Law Societies’ and the Canadian Bar Association revealed more than half of all respondents experienced distress and burnout, and legal professionals from minority groups or with a disability were more likely to have mental health concerns.
“We had a lot of discussion about interplay around competence and wellness,” says Hendsbee. “You can’t have one without the other. We’ve seen a number of surveys about wellness, harassment and discrimination and these issues are related to one other. Mental and legal competence is important.”
The LSA has looked at these issues in the past. In 2019, in partnership with the Law Society of Saskatchewan and the Law Society of Manitoba, the Law Society of Alberta released an articling survey, which revealed nearly one in three articling students facing discrimination and harassment. “Thirty years ago, we were not discussing these issues, and I’m glad we’re having these conversations,” says Hendsbee.
Creating a strategic plan in a changing landscape
The strategic plan came together through the strategic plan task force, chaired by Hendebee. A few benchers, external consultants and staff were part of the task force and created a draft strategic plan to present to the board. This was the first time that the LSA used external consultants in its strategic plan.
“We wanted to make to have new and different perspectives to avoid group think,” says Hendsbee. “We found it helpful.”
One of the new changes is reducing the timeline of the strategic plan from five years to three years to give experienced benchers the opportunity to weigh in on the organization’s strategic plan. “We were supposed to have another year with our former plan, but we just had an election in 2023,” says Hendsbee. “I think back to when I started six years ago and how hard it would be to show up and work on a strategic plan right away. We wanted seasoned people to have the opportunity to have their say.”
Hendsbee says the three-year plan also gives the LSA an opportunity to respond to rapid changes in the profession, such as the rise of artificial intelligence and the push for regulatory reform. “I don’t think a five-year strategic plan is going to be the norm anymore,” he says.