Rocking the (Bencher) Vote

Voting is now underway for the Law Society of Manitoba’s 2014 Bencher election and will continue until May 6 at 5:00 p.m. As has been the case for the past several elections, voting takes place electronically. It’s a good system in that it works effectively and efficiently, at least from this voter’s perspective.

The Benchers function as the board of directors of the Law Society of Manitoba. The composition of this board is set out in s. 5 of The Legal Profession Act as follows:

  • 10 practising lawyers elected for the City of Winnipeg Electoral District;
  • 2 practising lawyers elected for the Western Electoral District;
  • 1 one practising lawyer elected for each of the Northern Electoral District, the Dauphin Electoral District, the Central Electoral District and the Eastern Electoral District;
  • 1 articling student;
  • the immediate past president of the society;
  • 4 persons appointed under section 7 representing the public interest;
  • the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Manitoba, by virtue of their offices;
  • the Dean of the Faculty of Law of the University of Manitoba, or, if the Dean ceases under the rules to be a bencher, another member of that faculty who is appointed by the faculty to fill the vacancy; and
  • where applicable, any person appointed under the rules to fill a vacancy in the office of an elected bencher.

After nominations closed earlier this month, the Law Society distributed voting information along with brief and often interesting biographical information on all the Bencher candidates. Benchers in the Central, Dauphin and Western districts were elected by acclamation. Voting is ongoing for 9 Bencher positions in Winnipeg and 1 in the Northern Electoral District.

As the governing board for the legal profession in Manitoba, the mandate of the Benchers is broad. The Act sets out that

“The benchers shall govern the society and manage its affairs, and may take any action consistent with this Act that they consider necessary for the promotion, protection, interest or welfare of the society.”

The role of Benchers in self-governance of the legal profession is critical. Issues ranging from professional discipline to continuing professional development to trust accounting rules and the Code of Professional Conduct fall within their purview. As well, their decisions can have a substantial impact upon how legal services are delivered across the jurisdiction.

For all of these reasons, the bi-annual Bencher election is a significant event.

Participating in a Bencher election through voting provides an opportunity for practising lawyers to exert influence upon the direction in which the legal profession is moving on issues such as access to justice, law firm business structures, and new ethical rules and standards. Yet, voter turnout is often disappointing.

For me, the Bencher election also provides an opportunity to enhance the diversity and gender balance of those who govern our profession. In the past several elections, I have intentionally cast my ballot with an eye on increasing the proportion of Benchers who are women. A strategic vote in a Bencher election can be an effective tool to address the ongoing concerns regarding retention of women in private practice and gender imbalance on the Bench and in leadership positions.

If you’re a Manitoba lawyer reading this, I hope you’ll be motivated to take a few minutes to review the candidate bios and then will vote, if you’ve not already done so.

Comments are closed.