The value of volunteering

By Yves Faguy April 16, 201816 April 2018

The value of volunteering


In the spirit of National Volunteer Week, CBA National will be profiling outstanding CBA members who have made a difference.  To set the stage we caught up with CBA Vice-President Ray Adlington of McInnes Cooper in Halifax to talk about what volunteering has taught him, the impact it can have on a lawyer’s career and community and how to best get involved. 

CBA National: What have you learned from giving your time to help the profession and interacting with other volunteers?

Ray Adlington: Mostly how much we as lawyers have in common in terms of our intrinsic motivators. The majority of lawyers get into this profession because they want to serve others. We all have achievement-related goals that we want out of our careers. And all of us want to be good family members, whatever that may mean in terms of what stage your family and you happen to be at. In terms of common challenges, we face multiple demands from different clients. If you’re working for a single corporation or you’re a government lawyer then you’re facing challenges from multiple departments. We’re juggling all that in our professional lives and all of that is subject to ethical boundaries that those with whom we are working don’t always understand. The other insight I have gained is how challenging it is, even today, for women, lawyers of colour and members of the LGBT2-IS communities, to find their place in the profession given the existing pressures on them to conform. They face a particular challenge in remaining authentic to themselves. 

N: How should we measure the value of volunteering for the Association, if that is even possible?

RA: Well, first there’s the value that the volunteer delivers to the collective membership and the community beyond that. Second, there’s the value that the volunteer derives from the experience. Both are equally important. On the first count, the difference that the CBA makes through the advocacy work is certainly a significant measurement of the value that the volunteers have delivered. The investment in the justice system that was announced in the most recent federal budget is just the most recent public example. But our volunteers invest thousands of hours in delivering the submissions at the federal, provincial and territorial level around different areas of the law. There are the interventions before our courts to protect solicitor-client privilege. And our volunteers also deliver professional development to improve the skills of all lawyers in the country. As for the value that the volunteer derives, I think that their work within the CBA fosters a sense of community among them that is very important, because of the isolated lives that we lawyers lead as professional secret keepers. 

N: How do you mean?

RA: Practising law can be an isolating experience, in large part because of the duty of confidentiality. It’s obviously fundamentally important, but as an individual and a human, it is not always easy mentally. 

N: We’ve talked a lot lately about issues like independence of the judiciary and solicitor-client privilege, and the proper funding of justice. How important is it for members of the legal community to get involved and advocate for these principles?

RA: I’ll add that there are also many reports about how little access to justice there actually is in terms of the legal assistance that’s available to marginalized communities. So yes, it’s a crucial time because of the visibility these issues now have. This is the time that increased volunteerism and increased focus on the issues can make a difference across the country.

N: How do Canadian communities as a whole gain from the contribution of volunteers?

RA: The big thing is that the CBA volunteers help build better Canadian lawyers, which really does allow for better quality legal services to be delivered to Canadian communities in the traditional geographic sense. We also offer a united voice advocating for greater access to justice for those same communities. That and the advocacy work we do to protect judicial independence is the cornerstone of our democracy. But one of the other things the CBA volunteers do is keep an eye on the future of the profession, which will help us sort of continue to serve Canadian communities as we compete on the global stage.

N: For members out there who haven't yet, how would you suggest they get involved?

RA: The first suggestion is to consider delivering a presentation at a professional development event that the CBA is putting on. That provides so many benefits. The presenter will gain knowledge through the preparation process. It gives that individual some profile, which is important to all lawyers. It hopefully helps build confidence in their public speaking in a supportive environment. And it feels good when everybody claps at the end of your presentation. We’re all Canadian, so that is the usual outcome. The delivery of that presentation is important in terms of sharing knowledge and helping build the skills of all Canadian lawyers. For those that do want make a bigger commitment, section leadership is an area where there are a lot of volunteer opportunities. Probably the most important work the CBA does is at the section level so leadership at a branch section level is important. It will  introduce you into the national leadership if that is something you’re seeking.  You can then help set the advocacy agenda in that particular area, whether it’s in your area of law such as immigration or tax, or civil litigation, or whether it is an affiliation based section like the Women’s Lawyers Forum, the Young Lawyers Section or the French-Speaking Common-Law Members Forum. 

To all CBA members, the Association wants you to get involved if you are interested in influencing the direction of the profession on a national level. Many positions are currently available on our National Sections.

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