Preliminary Thoughts on Being the ED of the LCO

As the year winds on, I'm already experiencing "the last" of what
happens at the LCO - most recently, that meant the last student orientation at
the beginning of May. There'll be more, of course, as we get closer to
mid-December when I'll finish just over eight years in this position.

As the LCO searches for a new Executive Director, to begin in the fall, I
thought I'd jot down a few thoughts about what the position entails, at least
as I have done it.

Before I do, I will say very briefly here (I may squeeze in another blog
towards the end!) that it has been a fabulous job. Of course, it has had its
challenges, its ups and downs, but overall it has been a wonderful opportunity
to contribute not only to law reform in an everyday sense, but to 
creating a particular way of approaching it that has emphasized (to different
degrees of success) community involvement, multidisciplinary approaches and
viewing the law through different theoretical lenses. But it's time for new
creativity and different skills to help the LCO continue to enhance its work,
and time for me to consider other avenues.

It's hard to identify the most important part of the role, so the following
observations are in no particular order.

Project work: Not surprisingly, I've spent a great deal of the past
eight years supervising the projects, from preparing project proposals for the
Board's approval (or not) to participating at launches of major final reports.
And in between: deciding which project the LCO can undertake at any given time
and whom to identify as the head of the project; reviewing every document,
usually for the discussions papers, interim and final reports, more than once,
both for (grammatical) editorial consistency and consistency of substance and
themes (or noting why we're not being consistent), discussing the projects with
project heads on an ongoing basis on substance, but also in relation to
challenges of various kinds that might arise (and one can assume they will in
just about every project!); assisting with the creation of advisory groups for
each project; stepping in when for whatever reason work cannot be completed by
the project head (an infrequent occurrence, I hasten to add); speaking about
final reports at confences or other events when the project heads who were
responsible for them are no longer with the LCO; updating the Board on the
progress of projects, and deciding when it would be helpful for the project
head to speak to the Board; being ready to discuss the interim and final
reports when we take them to the Board, although the project head will lead
these discussions. 

The LCO's projects cover a range of legal areas and while the project head
acquires the real expertise in the areas in which they work, the ED needs to
become sufficiently conversant with all the areas to talk about them both
procedurally and substantively, based on a good appreciation of the law. This
is crucial to being able to work usefully with the project heads. And while the
LCO's project heads might not agree that I've been able to do this, it requires
the ED to give the project heads a good deal of discretion in how they deal
with projects. They are given the responsibility, after all, and they develop
an increasing expertise as they go through the various stages. At the same
time, it's important to maintain an overall understanding of the projects and
approaches and only the ED is really in a position to do that. And there are
times the ED must be frank that some aspect of the project needs a different
approach or more work. The ED approves documents either before they reach the
public or before they go to the Board for final approval. 

Outreach: Lots of time spent here, too. While obviously, there are
occasions when the chair of the Board of Governors or another member of the
Board needs to speak about the LCO at a conference or meet with a particular
person, Board members are volunteers and aren't always available, and
inevitably will not have the scope of knowledge about the different projects
that the ED has. For the ED, it's part of the job to ensure ongoing contact
with funders and the law schools, meeting with community groups, talking to
people about possible projects, addressing concerns or taking them to the chair
of the Board when necessary. Usually the project head will do outreach about
the projects for which they are responsible, both through consultations and
speaking at conferences or otherwise participating in the activities of other
organizations, but the ED will do so when it's necessary to talk about all the
projects.

Another form of outreach occurs through working with other organizations,
alongside others concerned with access to justice or a particular area of the
law in which the LCO has undertaken a project. There have been many of these
opportunities over the years. I know they have brought benefits to the LCO and
I hope from the LCO to  others.

I've been lucky to have continued some scholarly writing since taking
this position, to some extent in my own area of constitutional law or labour
law and gender, but also on access to justice and law reform more broadly. In
some ways, my own academic interests have coincided with the underlying mandate
of the LCO and that has made it easier to continue my own writing and making
presentations. And bringing some of the insights gained through that process to
the LCO's own approaches.

Administrative: This includes personnel and budget matters, and the
myriad of issues that arise for any administrator. I'm lucky to have had the
benefit of two very able executive assistants, Janice Williams who started with
me, and her successor Laura Caruso. And we've also been fortunate to have had
two other assistants who are computer savvy and well-organized in steering the
projects through the various stages, Amanda Rodrigues and, while she is on
maternity/parental leave, Andrew Seo (this position is the Project and Web
Coordinator). For me, I admit, this is "must do" work - and it does
need to be done if the LCO is to function smoothly.This area can require some
difficult decisions, which every administrator has to make from time to time.
While the ED must make these decisions, it has from time to time been helpful
to discuss them with the chair of the Board or at least alert him about the
situation. 

I also, in consultation with the chair, determine the agenda of the Board of Governors' meetings and prepare the appropriate materials (and the same applies to Board committees). These meetings are a regular opportunity to keep the Board apprised of developments, address questions and concerns and, of course, assist with whatever the members need. I also send irregular updates about LCO appearances in the media, and generally about various developments in which the LCO is involved. And the chair and I meet regularly or as needed to discuss a wide variety of issues and, indeed, to seek advice from each other on different matters.   

Lauren Bates, the LCO's senior lawyer, is a big support for hiring our legal
researchers, and has responsibility for our student program, doing a wonderful
job of planning student events, coordinating with the project heads on student
support and with some of the law schools whose interns spend their placement
with us. This has allowed me to play a supervisory role, work with Lauren to
select a final short list of candidates after she reviews all the applications
and otherwise be available if needed. Lauren as the longest-serving project
head has also served a mentoring role with newer researchers.

These are the three big areas of responsibility for the ED. This is how
they've actually played out (and will play out) during this month.

In relation to projects: reviewing a major discussion paper in one project,
reviewing chapters for the interim report in another and reviewing the draft
final report in a third; discussions with all the project heads about some
aspects of their projects; and meeting with the advisory group in one project,
along with individual conversations with some members.

Outreach: meeting with the LCO's funders as a group; drafting letters
recognizing personnel changes at a funder and an organization with which we've
had considerable contact; meeting with the "new" dean at U of T Law,
Ed Iacobucci; attendance at a symposium on Targeted Legal Services and at the
celebration of Asian and South Asian Heritage Month at the Law Society; two
meetings of "collaborative" initiatives in which the LCO is involved;
attendance/particpation in a conference organized in relation to the subject
matter of one of the LCO's final reports, since the different project heads are
no longer with the LCO; attending the annual dinner of the community legal
clinics; writing a blog for the newsletter for the Canadian Forum on Civil
Justice, of which I'm a Board member.  

Administrative: review of the final report on funding sources and discussion
with the consultant; ongoing contact with the admin assistant and the project
coordinator; preparing for the posting of the next Ministry of the Attorney
General Counsel in Residence; a meeting with a Board committee; and the bits
and pieces that barely register, they are so much part of the job. We also have
two advisory groups, one community-based and the other composed of reps from
the law schools - they will play a larger role as the new projects get
underway.

That gives some sense of how I've approached the job, having discussed with
the Board the work that needs to be done and my own approach to it. It remains
to see whether the Board has different ideas with a different ED who will bring
her or his own thinking and experience to the position. Regardless, the new ED
will be able to rely on a great group to work with, both staff and Board, and
the two advisory groups, as the LCO continues to be innovative with exciting
projects in the wings.    

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To read more of Patricia Hughes' blog, please click here.

 

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