Bencher Profile Series: Elizabeth Hak

March 25, 2021

The 2020 Bencher Election resulted in the most diverse board both in terms of ethnicity and primary areas of practice in the Law Society’s history. In addition, the non-lawyer voices and issues that are constantly interacting with the legal profession – are essential to the protection of the public interest – and are codified in the Bencher table itself.

Elizabeth Hak is one of four Benchers who are appointed by the Minister of Justice, per the Legal Profession Act. As a forensic scientist working with the RCMP, Elizabeth’s first interaction with the law and lawyers was as an expert witness at trial.

“I was surprised at how adversarial the court process was,” says Elizabeth. “I usually appeared as a witness for the Crown so that part of my testimony was fine, but I usually had a tougher go around with the defence lawyers – the experience definitely taught me how to think on my feet!

“I can look back and recognize that they were conducting a spirited defence for their client and trying to find holes in my evidence was part of that.”

After 12 years of working with the RCMP, Elizabeth first completed a diploma in journalism from SAIT before finding a role as a member of the Alberta Transportation Safety Board (ATSB) in 2011. Through her time with the ATSB, Elizabeth would chair hearings with other members and write decisions and this is where she found a passion for adjudication that has continued into her appointment as a Bencher in 2018.

“I enjoy hearings the most as they’re like a puzzle; sifting through case law, legislation and evidence, trying to fit it all together so that it makes sense to all parties and can be justified with objective analysis and be understood with a clear, readable decision.”

For all of her experience with both governance and adjudication, Elizabeth was surprised by the number and variety of committees the Benchers participate in. She credits the Law Society staff for ensuring that all of the Benchers have the resources and information they need.

“To be frank, I didn’t know what to expect when I became a Lay Bencher. All Boards are different and have different mandates and processes. (Law Society) staff always make sure the Benchers have the information they need to make thoughtful decisions, whether it’s on policy or finances or lawyer competency.”

Throughout that decision-making process, Elizabeth brings her perspective as a member of the public to bear, focusing on the public interest. “My perspective is always, ‘How does this affect the public? Is this a policy or decision that could cause the public to lose confidence in the legal profession or that could put the public at a disadvantage?’ says Elizabeth. “I’ve noticed that when the Benchers make decisions, considering the public interest is always part of the discussion, not just with the Lay Benchers; I think it should give the public confidence knowing that their concerns are foremost in the decision-making process.”

Alongside her adjudicative role with the Law Society, Elizabeth is passionate around issues related to access to justice. While the focus for many access to justice initiatives are on the most marginalized members of society, Elizabeth notes that many more Albertans are in difficult circumstances where a traditional legal model – and its associated costs – may be unaffordable, and innovation in the practice of law may be a way for more people to get the legal help they need.

“No one should expect lawyers to work for free; It is not unreasonable for them to expect a retainer in order to take on a client and do work for them,” says Elizabeth. “Sadly, many people don’t have a few thousand dollars to give.

“That money may be the difference between a mortgage payment and eviction, food for their family or not. Those are real choices that have to be made. Sometimes, people just need help; they have a legal problem that needs to be solved. While being able to secure the services of a lawyer might be prudent, for many Albertans, it’s not always affordable. It’s going to take more than increasing how many pro bono cases a firm will take on or expanding Legal Aid. It’s important that legal representation is available to everyone.”