New Federation President maintains focus on national standards and access to legal services

(Nov. 15, 2013)   The Federation of Law Societies of Canada is pleased to announce that Marie-Claude Bélanger-Richard, Q.C. has been elected President for 2013-2014. Ms. Bélanger-Richard earned her law degree from the University of Moncton, and was admitted to the Law Society of New Brunswick in 1986. She was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 2003.

Ms. Bélanger-Richard is a partner in the firm Stewart McKelvey in Moncton, N.B. where she practises family law and civil litigation. She joined the Federation Council in 2009 as the representative of the Law Society of New Brunswick, and also served as President of the law society in 2010-2011. She is currently president of the law society’s Mandatory Continuing Professional Development Committee, which is responsible for implementation and enforcement of the continuing education program for lawyers in New Brunswick.

The new Federation President says national standards projects underway are the logical follow-up to national mobility of the legal profession. “We are developing national admission and discipline standards designed to ensure there is a high and consistent standard of regulation of the legal profession across Canada. The Federation’s Model Code of Professional Conduct is another example of this principled approach to consistent regulation.”

The first mobility arrangements between law societies go back to 2002, but it was only in 2013 that provincial law societies agreed to a regime that permits lawyers to transfer with ease between Quebec, a civil law jurisdiction, to common law provinces and vice versa. “One challenge in 2014 will be to ensure that the new mobility agreement is implemented because it only comes into effect when each law society adopts the necessary rules. In addition, the Office des professions and the Government of Quebec still have to give their approval,” the new Federation President says.

Ms. Bélanger-Richard says the ongoing national discipline standards project is aimed at raising the bar for how complaints and discipline matters are handled. “Receiving, investigating and resolving complaints are the core work of law societies” she notes. “Developing and implementing high and consistent process and performance standards based on sound principles, together with a mechanism for measuring compliance, is key to maintaining public confidence in our system of regulation of Canada’s legal profession”

Another priority identified by Ms. Bélanger-Richard is the ongoing national focus on access to legal services. The Federation was a key stakeholder in the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, which released its final report in October. This broad-based committee was established by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

“There are a number of important recommendations in the report that the Federation will study” Ms. Bélanger-Richard says, “then we will work with the law societies to see what can be done from a regulatory perspective to help improve the access Canadians have to legal services.”