The recipient of this year’s Susanna Jani Award for Excellence in Mediation has a longstanding history leading, promoting and facilitating effective conflict resolution. I think you’ll agree that she has had an impressively positive impact.
In 1981 she began providing training and holding conferences around BC on family violence. She then went on to design a course, and write the manual for the first mediation course at the JI which she delivered in 1983. Within a year of that first class, she established the Justice Institute’s Centre for Conflict Resolution Training. She continued to develop collaborative conflict resolution courses for the JI well through the 1990s.
In 1990, she received her Master’s Degree of Education in Counselling Psychology and began turning her mind to the conflict and pain she was seeing workplaces. By 1995 she developed and taught the harassment and discrimination mediation course at the JI which was followed by being part of the team to develop one of Canada’s first Respectful Workplace Programs. She continued to work with Crown Corporations and correctional facilities to change the conflict culture of these institutions.
It is my privilege to announce that the 2017 recipient of the Susanna Jani Award for Excellence in Mediation is Marje Burdine.
About the Susanna Jani Award for Excellence in Mediation
As many of you know, unbundled legal services help to fill the gap for people who do not qualify for legal aid and cannot afford full representation. Law Societies in many jurisdictions have formally approved unbundling (also called limited scope legal services) but few lawyers were offering these services to the public. The purpose of Mediate BC’s BC Family Justice Unbundled Legal Services Project (the “Project”) was to find ways to encourage more lawyers to offer these services.
The Project has been highlighted in various Slaw posts during that period including here and Nate Russell’s excellent post here. While the final report details the Project’s activities, observations and deliverables during its 18 month life, the unbundling movement is far from over. In fact, the report acknowledges that, at most, it attempted to nudge an existing movement and that much more still needs to be done.
The Toolkit is open and available to anyone. While it focuses on family matters, the contents were designed to be adaptable to other practice areas. Tools address the major concerns expressed by lawyers: claims and complaints to the Law Society and reputational concerns.
Many lawyers are already providing unbundled legal services, although they may call them something different and, due to their concerns, may refrain from promoting or advertising those services. Unbundled legal services can come in many different forms and in a variety of practice areas. When he first learned about unbundling, one lawyer from the Okanagan was excited to announce that he was providing unbundled services to small claims litigants using a flat fee. We also encountered a number of BC lawyers who are focusing their practices on unbundling in creative and satisfying ways. We hope that the Project results will provide more lawyers with the incentive and reassurance to examine their own practices and consider how they could offer unbundled services to existing or new clients.
The report was also drafted with other change-makers in mind. It includes observations, principles and learnings that were designed to assist those who are supporting unbundling and related initiatives in other jurisdictions.
The Project evolved over time (as is expected when dealing in a complex environment) and focused on some key principles including:
Acknowledging that the Project attempted to intervene in a complex (justice) system and that change-making in that environment requires a different approach;
Embracing a “learn as you go” approach;
Gaining inspiration from other jurisdictions (which were also encouraging unbundling);
Collaborating with a wide variety of stakeholders including the public;
The report concludes with observations about unbundling and the change process, a vision for the future and some critical next steps. It urges stakeholders (in particular, the Law Society of BC, CBA BC Branch, Courthouse Libraries of BC and Access to Justice BC) to assume a joint stewardship role to continue to nurture the unbundling movement. The CBABC has already confirmed creation of a new province-wide Unbundled Legal Services section and A2JBC is in the process of forming an Unbundling Working Group. We are optimistic that the momentum created for unbundling will continue.
The Project evaluation report confirms the growing interest of lawyers in unbundled services and tangible support from the BC judiciary (which is encouraging). It also confirms perceived barriers to lawyer involvement plus strategies to address them, all of which were taken into account in designing both the Toolkits and Roster. The evaluation report also points out areas needing further research (including more robust input from clients who have used unbundled legal services). The report concludes with:
Across the board, there was concurrence that there is a crisis of legal affordability and that unbundled legal services are needed as one way to address a lack of access to justice and lack of access to legal services.
It is still early days in this journey and we hope that evaluation activities will continue as unbundling expands.
A key point emerging from both reports is the urgent need for a focused effort to raise public awareness of unbundling. Now that the profession is stepping forward to offer these services we need to let the public know they are available and how to find those who offer them.
We are extremely grateful to the Law Society of BC, the Law Foundation of BC, Courthouse Libraries of BC, CBABC and Mediate BC for their ongoing support (financial and otherwise) of this initiative and to the many other stakeholders who have stepped up to champion unbundling.
Please take a few moments to review the final report and evaluation report and consider how unbundling is or could be a more prominent part of your practice. While my official role in the Project has concluded, I would be happy to receive your thoughts and ideas and to support this important initiative as it moves forward.
Investigations into workplace bullying and harassment can be expensive not only in the outlay and diversion of resources, but also in their overall effect on workplace culture, trust, retention, absenteeism and “presenteeism”, etc. In fact, as Gray and Marshall report, “Investigations are a significant investment, so be honest up front: if resources are not available, the HR group risks over-reaching, and the damage of a botched investigation can be greater than the original complaint.”
Despite all of the information, training and regulations about bullying and harassment available to organizations, are investigations still happening so frequently?
Several HR professionals that we have worked with have told us that when unhappy employees have no other resources or processes to follow, and don’t feel comfortable speaking up, they will file a bullying or harassment complaint because their employer can’t ignore it. While there are very legitimate bullying and harassment issues that require appropriate attention, we also know that many of these complaints can relate more to general workplace conflict, can be managed in a more productive manner, and even prevented.
Conflict in any environment is inevitable, and in the workplace, where we spend a huge amount of time interacting with co-workers, managers, clients, etc., it can be both frequent and especially destructive. By putting a workplace conflict management program in place, employers can prevent the worst effects of conflict and manage what does arise effectively.
Consider the difference:
An employee in a company that has no explicit system in place, and perhaps a culture where conflict is avoided, will generally either leave or work in a less than effective manner. If they stay and decide to take action, and if their problem with others can even remotely be framed as bullying and harassment, they will often follow the path available to them under the relevant WorkSafeBC regulations. Since the investigative process is rarely pleasant for anyone involved, this is likely to lead to an expensive and unhappy outcome all around. The overall approach is defensive and reactive.
An employee in a company with a conflict management program in place, first of all, likely has received training in conflict management skills and works for a manager who is trained in the conflict management skills important in leadership. The workplace culture allows for people to speak up about problems without retribution. If the manager is unable to help resolve the problem, then the manager or the HR team is trained to assess, or has access to someone who can assess the situation and steer it to the most effective resources and/or process. The overall approach is open and proactive.
There are skilled investigators available who can approach this process in the healthiest manner possible, and can help everyone achieve the best possible outcome. However, what is healthier for the workplace overall, and therefore for the business itself, is a well-planned, communicated and established program where investigation is only one of many possible tools, and is only used when appropriate.
Conflict is expensive. We can help.
Contact us at 604-684-1300 x200 (or toll-free 1-877-656-1300 x200) to find out how we can design and operate or support a workplace conflict management program for your organization.
 Gray, H. and Marshall, G. Investigation is the New Arbitration. PeopleTalk, Spring 2017.