By Gregory Walen, Q.C.
Most members of our Law Society have only a vague idea of the workings of the Federation of Law Societies. This is not unexpected as the Federation is an umbrella organization of the Law Societies and not lawyers directly. For many lawyers, however, the face of the Federation has for many years been the National Criminal Law Program and the National Family Law Program.
These two programs have been regarded as the most successful legal education programs delivered on a national level in Canada. For reasons that I will explain in this article, questions have been raised about why the Federation should continue its involvement in these programs despite their incredible success.
So what involvement does the Federation have with these two programs? Often these Canadian Legal Education (CLE) programs are described as being “offered in association with the Federation” or “sponsored by the Federation”. Actually, these initiatives are Federation programs because the Federation lends its brand and goodwill to them.
However, the organization and content are completely independent of the Federation. The organizers are several judges and senior practitioners, who have been regarded as operating at the core of programming and delivery. At the operational level, the Federation provides some office administration services as well as financial and banking services but little else.
So if it isn’t broke, why fix it, is the view of many. These programs have been incredibly successful operating, as they do, independently of the Federation. So successful that they do not operate in a deficit position and are financially solid. Well, it’s not so easy.
As part of the Federation’s 2017-2020 Strategic Plan, the Federation must review “key services” and in particular, review our role in the National Family and Criminal Law programs. Some are of the view that such programming is beyond our mandate and does not fit within our core regulatory function to the law societies.
In light of our Strategic Plan, the Federation Council formed the CLE Program Review Advisory Group with a mandate to review, in conjunction with the current organizers of the programs, the continued involvement of the Federation and report back to Council with a recommendation in due course. I feel fortunate to participate as a member of this committee as I have been a faculty member of the National Family Law Program in the past.
The Advisory Committee has met in Toronto with the organizers of the programs on two occasions and has discussed a wide range of options. One option is for the Federation to pull out entirely which, I believe will not happen. Another option is for the status quo to be maintained. I also feel that this will not happen.
Both the program organizers and members of the Advisory Committee are working to collaborate on a solution or solutions. From my standpoint, this may involve more direct Federation involvement through, perhaps, a CLE standing committee tasked with some form of oversight into the programs but not necessarily program content.
Others may have different views. What we do know is that, through a consultation with Law Society leaders recently, there is overwhelming support for the Federation’s continued involvement in these programs but with the caveat that the delivery of the programming (not necessarily content) must comport with Federation values such as bilingual delivery and public access to materials.
I close out this article by thanking the Law Society Benchers for giving me the opportunity to represent the Society over the last six years. It has been quite a journey which officially will end on November 15 when my successor will take over.