By the time you read this, the highest court in the land may have already ruled on a landmark case involving the country’s humblest workers. If and when the decision does come, it will bring relief to the many labour experts who have been waiting as eagerly as teenagers anticipating the launch of the next iPod. “I think it may be the most important case in Canadian labour law in a century,” says Roy J. Adams, professor emeritus of industrial relations at McMaster University and the Ariel F. Sallows Chair of Human Rights at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Law. “The implications are absolutely huge.”
Jordan Weisz is the kind of lawyer who has kept Canada’s legal aid system afloat for the past two decades. About 80 per cent of the clients who come to his doors each year have a legal aid certificate in hand. Yet they represent less than half of his revenue. As a senior practitioner, he qualifies for Legal Aid Ontario’s top tariff rate of $106.90 per hour. But LAO is forced to make do with a fixed amount of funding each year regardless of demand for services. To cover the shortfall, it restricts the number of hours for which lawyers are compensated, regardless of what may be required for a proper defence.
The last 10 years have seen a phenomenon sweep through the family law community in the form of collaborative law. The hallmark of that movement has been that lawyers are only retained for the purpose of negotiating a settlement, and if that fails to eventuate, the parties have to find new counsel to litigate the matter. The collaborative approach turns away from aggressive, adversarial behaviour and favours interest-based negotiations. While collaborative family law is growing exponentially and has almost acquired mainstream status, it is very much in its infancy in estate law. Practitioners all over the country extol the concept as an excellent fit for estate matters. Why then are so few estate lawyers actually doing it?
The Université de Montréal law faculty’s Centre de recherche en droit public drew the ire of lawyers across the globe in 1996 when it launched the CyberTribunal project. The groundbreaking venture was the first to offer consumers an exclusively online mediation and arbitration platform to settle disputes with online vendors. Many lawyers were appalled by the brazen experiment in managing disputes between parties that would never come face to face and, perhaps more to the point, not pay counsel to help generate a settlement.
Rod Snow, a partner at Davis LLP in Whitehorse, practises aboriginal, mining, and environmental law. He was born and raised in Nova Scotia, but found himself in Vancouver after completing his LLM at the University of Washington. In 1993, he moved to the Yukon to help Davis open its first office in the North and stayed ever since. As the first president of the Canadian Bar Association from the North, he plans to focus on several issues affecting Northern Canada.
When newly appointed Attorney General Chris Bentley set off on his travels around Ontario, hoping to speak to members of the legal community about criminal and civil matters, he found that everyone really wanted to talk about family law. “For many years we hadn’t done much to family law — just little tweaks in the legislation and the process — but everywhere I went the lawyers and judges and people in the community all agreed that something needed to be done.” According to Bentley, the call for reform has been hard sell; loud and persistent. “I heard that the existing approach was ‘very frustrating.’ That’s the nicest way of putting it. Everyone wanted decisions to be made faster with less anger and confrontation and for the system to be one heck of a lot cheaper and less complex.”