Message from Tim Brown, Q.C., Executive Director, Law Society of Saskatchewan
The next Bencher Election is scheduled for November 2018. Elections will take place in all electoral districts (including New Lawyer Bencher). The information on this website has two purposes. The first is to encourage lawyers to consider running as Benchers in this election. The second is to reacquaint you with the process for online elections.
Who should run for Bencher?
All lawyers in good standing in Saskatchewan are eligible to run for Bencher. The ideal traits for a Bencher are varied. As a group, it is desirable for Benchers to come from various backgrounds, large and small firms, rural and urban, public and private, to name a few. Good decisions result from considering diverse life experiences. Experience with governance practice, administrative law, professional regulation, communications, accounting and insurance are also very helpful. An ideal Bencher candidate should be diligent, collaborative, open-minded and respectful. Benchers are fiduciaries of the Law Society and loyalty to the organizations is of utmost importance.
The Law Society believes that its mandate to protect the public interest in the administration of justice will be best served by leadership from diverse backgrounds and experience. All lawyers who meet the qualifications for Bencher and want to contribute to the governance of the profession are encouraged to stand for election, but Indigenous lawyers, visible minority lawyers, women lawyers, LGBTQ lawyers, lawyers with disabilities and young lawyers are particularly encouraged to do so, as these groups continue to be under-represented among elected Benchers. Further, lawyers from all practice areas and types are encouraged to run for Bencher.
It is an exciting time to be involved in the regulation of the legal profession, as technology, globalization and new regulatory trends have been shaping new opportunities for both the practice and the regulation of law. I encourage all members to consider putting their names forward.
What is the role of a Bencher?
Now that I have you thinking about it, what do you need to know? The best source of general information is on the Law Society website, in The Legal Profession Act, 1990 (the “Act”) and in the Law Society Rules.
Lawyers are privileged to have self-government and must understand that it depends on the work and commitment of many volunteers. The Benchers are the governing board of the Law Society; they make policy decisions respecting the regulation of the profession and set the strategic direction for the Law Society. The Benchers are a hybrid policy governance board. What this means is that there is a clear separation between governance and management. The Benchers are focused on strategic leadership for the Law Society, while Management is focused on developing options and delivering programs.
Benchers also serve some statutory adjudicative functions respecting the admission and conduct of lawyers in Saskatchewan.
It is also important to remember that although Benchers are elected from constituencies, they do not represent member interests. Corporate Directors owe a fiduciary duty to the corporation, not the shareholders. At common law, the fiduciary duty requires a Director to act honestly and in good faith, and with the best interests of the corporation in mind. The best interests of the corporation are defined by the Act to be in the public interest. This role is sometimes in conflict with the Bencher perception as elected representatives of a constituency or as representing various interests. As a Bencher, you could consider diverse interests and views, but where there is a conflict between member interest and public interest, the public interest always prevails.
In addition to the members elected by the legal profession, the Bencher table includes representatives of the public and the Dean of the College of Law.
What is the time commitment?
This is no soft sell. Being a Bencher requires a lot of time and hard work. A Bencher term is a 3-year commitment, with the option to run for a second term. The Benchers meet 5-6 times throughout the year, to conduct Bencher business (called “Convocation”) and to participate in professional development opportunities or in-depth policy discussions. These meetings equate to approximately 10 days per year.
Each Bencher can expect to be named to several committees dealing with policy development in several areas related to the regulation of the profession. Some committee meetings are held in conjunction with Convocation, but others are held by phone or videoconference to reduce time spent away from the office.
There are also hearings or investigations, preparation time and other assorted committee work. Hearings are conducted by a panel of three and are chaired by Benchers. Additional lawyers and members of the public are also available to serve on hearing panels, so Benchers may be required to sit on 1-3 hearing panels during each term.
All in all, you can expect to spend at minimum 15-20 working days per year attending meetings in this role. I know this is a big commitment.
There are approximately 30 staff at the head office in Regina that provide professional assistance to the Benchers in every aspect of their work. The staff includes lawyers and other professionals in the areas of audit and accounting, education, legal resources, communications, information technology and human resources among others.
Why should you run for Bencher?
So why would you want to become a Bencher? Let’s be up front. It is a lot of hard, unpaid work.
The reason to become a Bencher is that it is very interesting work. It is also an opportunity to re-engage with the profession. Lawyers tend to become isolated in their practice; always dealing with a limited number of people and issues. The Law Society work opens up new horizons; you will have the opportunity to improve your own practice, meet people from across Saskatchewan and beyond, and gain experience in the areas of governance, professional regulation and adjudication among others. You will learn about subjects that you otherwise wouldn’t and have a chance to shape the future of the legal profession.
Most Benchers come away from their duties renewed in the practice of law, through new ideas, new experience and interesting colleagues. It is the greatest crash-course in professional development ever designed.
Overwhelmingly, Benchers past and present have told me that their time as Bencher was one of the most rewarding aspects of their careers. This sentiment is reinforced by the fact that, almost without exception, Benchers run for a second term of office and many remain involved with the Law Society after their second terms in other volunteer capacities.
How does the election process work?
If you are considering putting your name forward, the first thing you need to know is whether you qualify. Section 17 of the Act wisely disqualifies any member that is suspended from practice. The other qualification is that you must either work or reside in the constituency in which you seek election. The constituencies are described in Schedule 2 of the Law Society Rules. Other than those minimal qualifications, any member can apply.
On approximately September 15th, voter's lists will be posted online. Members will receive an email asking them to check to ensure they are in the correct constituency.
Rule 19 requires that candidates be nominated by two members in good standing who reside within the constituency. Anyone wishing to be nominated can find a nomination form on this website. Nominations are due October 4, 2018. Nominees are also encouraged to provide a biography, along with a current business-size photo for the website.
By October 15th, all members will receive an email providing them with a link to the eBallot website where they will find biographies for eligible candidates in their electoral district, as well as a ballot. Lawyers who have been called to the bar from 10 or fewer years are also eligible to run in the New Lawyer Bencher category, which is elected by other lawyers who have been called to the bar within the last 10 years. Members will have until midnight November 15th to complete their ballots.
On November 15th, the ballots will be tallied automatically and the winners will be announced.
It is essential to maintain an up-to-date email address on the Law Society database. Please ensure your email address is current by checking your member profile on the Law Society website.
All members are encouraged to put their name forward
While it is a lot of work, the Bencher experience is overwhelmingly positive, both personally and professionally. It is rewarding and interesting work. If you are thinking of running but have questions, I encourage you to speak with our office or a current or past Bencher.