Role of Lawyers on Boards (Societies Act FAQs)
Role of Lawyers on Boards of Not-for-Profit Societies
The willingness of lawyers to contribute their time, experience and knowledge to the not-for-profit sector by serving on Boards, or Committees, is laudable and rewarding. Nonetheless lawyers serving on Boards must be mindful of some of the risks that flow from these activities.
Key risks, insurance coverage issues aside for a moment, go the heart of your knowledge and expertise; namely whenever a “legal issue” arises in a meeting, everyone will turn to you for your thoughts, your input and, more critically, your advice. The fundamental challenges as everyone awaits your response include
• do you have the full and complete information that a lawyer, retained to provide advice, would insist upon? • do you have time to thoughtfully consider a response? • is the issue one that falls within your area of knowledge and expertise? • is your advice “independent”, or is it clouded by loyalty to the organization, or a particular policy position you may feel strongly about?
While it will likely bring frowns to the faces of other board members, or quizzical looks, the response, “this question raises important legal issues, we need to get the advice of outside counsel” is more often than not the correct response.
The Law Society of British Columbia provides guidance to members. Click Here
This guidance includes a link to a useful checklist from Law Pro [Lawyers Professional Indemnity Company, Ontario] Click Here
This information is not provided to dissuade you from contributing your time and expertise, but rather to let you do so “eyes wide open”.
As pointed out in the Law Society of British Columbia’s guidance, having a frank discussion of the constraints on your role on accepting a position on a Board, and refreshing that discussion annually, is excellent advice.
Having dealt with the risks and constraints, you still have a great deal to contribute to, and benefit from, service in the not-for-profit sector.