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The Volunteer Lawyer and Election Campaigns

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October 28, 2019

Election 43 is now behind us. While many Canadians were closely following the ups and downs of the 40-day campaign right up until the ballot results on October 21st, others were even more deeply entrenched.

Election campaigns offer lawyers a unique opportunity to put their skills to good use.  If you are a lawyer looking for a worthwhile pro bono project, then consider volunteering as campaign counsel. Even if you are not an expert in elections law (and let’s face it, not too many are), your legal background will put you in good stead to familiarize yourself with the relevant statutory provisions, issue-spot and resolve conflicts.

There are electoral districts (sometimes known as ridings or wards) which will not have ready access to many lawyer volunteers, so it would be comparatively easy to find a role as counsel. In other electoral districts with candidates who have strong connections with the legal profession, simply putting your hand up may not get you the role of campaign counsel. Rather, as in any other organization, it may take a bit of sweat equity by volunteering in other roles before the election is called.

Electoral districts generally have volunteer associations which assist with supporting the elected official/hopeful candidate between elections, and with general election readiness. There are a myriad of tasks to be attended to by these associations, and volunteers are always needed. There may be opportunities to join the board of an electoral district association, and as in the case of other community-based boards, those with legal training are valued for the inherent skills they bring to the table – the ability to review and analyze documents, to identify issues, to track the progress of various matters, to ensure that meetings are run efficiently, and to speak effectively to various issues.

During the writ period, volunteers are needed to go door-to-door canvassing, call voters, help with fundraising, prepare meals for the campaign team, install signs, etc. The list of tasks is never-ending. Particularly for those tasks which require contact with voters, lawyers are usually well-equipped to be articulate in answering any questions, and in bringing a strong customer-service mindset to addressing any concerns.

As campaign counsel, you will be called upon to ensure that the rules governing the electoral process are being adhered to, and to advocate for your candidate where required. As in many potentially contentious situations, a solid understanding of the relevant laws and an ability to state your position calmly yet effectively is often the best way to resolve issues quickly.

For anyone who is looking to expand their legal horizons, a volunteer role as counsel on an election campaign (or as a member of an electoral district association) is truly worthwhile. Regardless of your political affiliation, such a role will put you in touch with many people in the broader community and allow you to use your legal skills in a setting that is likely very different from your day-to-day office or courtroom work – in other words, an enriching experience all around.