Civil Litigation, The Profession

New calls must continue to welcome change in profession

By Staff

The legal profession has changed considerably in the last six decades — and lawyers called to the bar in 2019 have the duty to continue embracing change in order to maintain Canadian values and the rule of law, Toronto lawyer and arbitrator Earl Cherniak said as he received an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) degree from the Law Society of Ontario.

As Cherniak, partner with Lerners LLP, who has been a practising lawyer in Ontario since his call to the bar in June 1960, told those in attendance at the June 26 Call to the Bar ceremony at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall, the practice of law looks dramatically different than it did 59 years ago.

“There were only 5,000 lawyers in Ontario, virtually no women and no female judges. The bar was still almost entirely made up of a homogeneous group of white male lawyers, predominantly Protestant and Catholic and some Jews,” said Cherniak, who received an honorary LLD for his contributions to the legal profession, to the administration of justice and his devotion to the rule of law.

In addition, he noted during his keynote address, in 1960 there was no Charter of Rights, civil and criminal trials took one or two days at most, and murder trials rarely took more than a week.

“The only ground for divorce was adultery, deserted wives had virtually no rights, there was no internet, no Google, no specialization, no messaging, no photocopy, no fax, no email, no voicemail, no class actions and almost no one docketed hours. A large firm — and there were only a few of them — was composed of about 25 lawyers,” said Cherniak.

Contrast to 2019, he said, where there are more than 50,000 lawyers in the province, firms with 1,000 lawyers, more than 50 per cent of law school students are female and a wide mix of gender and ethnicity in the bar. “Just look around you,” he told the candidates.

Although it is difficult to predict the future, Cherniak told 2019 calls to the bar that the changes they will experience during the course of their practice “will make the many changes in my generation pale by comparison.”

To name a few, he noted the presence of political upheaval, artificial intelligence, the effects of climate change, space travel, automated dispute resolution, global law firms and increasing self-representation.

“You will have to adapt, as my generation did, to the changes that are coming. Much that you learned in law school will become irrelevant. But the analytical skills and the friends you have made will be essential to your professional survival,” said Cherniak.

Indeed, he said — lawyers must not fight change.

“Rather, it is to be welcomed, embraced, accommodated, managed, directed and massaged, so that the changes are for the better, and not the worse. That will take some doing and constant vigilance. But if maintenance of the rule of law and the values we have as Canadians are the touchstone, it must be done,” said Cherniak.

“From the privileged position that you hold by entering this profession, you all have the capacity, and indeed the obligation, to see that the values that have made Canada the country that it is are maintained, and challenges to these values steadfastly opposed, come what may,” he added.

Cherniak urged 2019 calls to make the most of what they have been given, in order to make the profession stronger “for yourself, your children, your grandchildren, the public that we are sworn to serve, and the country we love.”

Ultimately, Cherniak noted, receiving the honorary LLD from the Law Society of Ontario, and the bar “to which I have devoted my professional life, is a signal honour that I cherish.”

“I have never regretted for a moment the career I chose. It has rewarded me in every possible way, and still does,” added Cherniak, who has acted on some of Canada’s most important cases at both the trial and appellate levels. He represented the Canadian Red Cross in the inquiry into the Canadian blood system and served as counsel for the Medical Officer of Health in the inquiry into the Walkerton water safety crisis. Cherniak also regularly appears before the Supreme Court of Canada and is recognized as a leader in alternative dispute resolution.

Cherniak is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, and the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, and served as a bencher for the Law Society from 1999 to 2007.

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