2014 – 2017
The Northwest Territories Law Foundation marked an important milestone in 2012: 30 continuous years serving the people of the Northwest Territories. Recognizing the significance of this anniversary, the Directors of the Law Foundation initiated discussions on the future of the organization, culminating in this Strategic Plan for the 2014-2017 period.
The plan is also available as a PDF:
The Northwest Territories Law Foundation marked an important milestone in 2012: 30 continuous years serving the people of the Northwest Territories. Since inception, the Law Foundation has awarded close to $2.8 million dollars in grants, and over $200,000 in scholarships. A graph of our grant history is attached to this document. Recognizing the significance of this anniversary, the Directors of the Law Foundation initiated discussions on the future of the organization, culminating in this Strategic Plan for the 2014-2017 period.
The objectives of this Strategic Plan are as follows:
- achieve clarity with respect to the mission and vision of the Law Foundation;
- to prepare for and manage changes on the horizon;
- to focus decision-making processes on key goals;
- to ensure optimal stewardship of Law Foundation resources; and
- to improve communications and relations with stakeholders.
The Law Foundation has benefited tremendously from the commitment, wisdom and foresight of its Directors over the past three decades. Implementation of this Strategic Plan, with necessary monitoring and recalibrations over the next three years, can be one part of ensuring that this important institution continues to enable the people of the Northwest Territories to access justice and the tools of justice well into the future.
The mandate of the Northwest Territories Law Foundation, as set out in the Legal
Profession Act, is to support legal research and law reform, law libraries, legal
education and public awareness of the law, to provide assistance to legal aid
programs, and to contribute to the lawyers’ Assurance Fund (to protect members
of the public from loss).
The Northwest Territories Law Foundation strives to fulfill its legislative mandate in an operational environment that is full of both opportunities and challenges. Like all small organizations in small jurisdictions, the Law Foundation has its internal weaknesses. Fortunately, it also has considerable strengths that it can draw upon to move forward. As part of the strategic planning process, Directors reflected on each of these components of the Law Foundation’s strategic context.
The Northwest Territories Law Foundation is now well established, with a good track record. Created by statute, its arm’s-length status affords it some latitude to creatively pursue its objects. A small Board of five Directors, drawing on both the legal profession and the important perspective of a lay member, allows for sound yet agile decision-making.
The Law Foundation currently has a healthy reserve fund, which has allowed it to continue funding programs and students throughout the recent and prolonged economic downturn, through deficit spending. The reserve fund is adequate to sustain the Law Foundation for a couple more lean years yet.
The Law Foundation benefits from a collegial and committed Board, a very experienced and capable part-time Executive Manager, a core set of long-term grantees, good relations with the Law Society, and support from the legal profession generally.
The Law Foundation recognizes that its resources are limited, both human and financial. Everything it does is through a volunteer Board and a part-time manager. This has resulted in a focus on more programs in Yellowknife than in other parts of the Northwest Territories, and also a greater focus on some of its objects than on others.
While the Law Foundation has operated according to sound practices, not all of these are codified in up-to-date by-laws and policies.
In recent years of low revenue but fixed overhead costs, the Law Foundation’s ratio of administrative-costs-to-grants has necessarily increased, in a manner that would not be sustainable in the long term.
While the Law Foundation makes an important and valuable contribution, without a ‘storefront’ and given its limited past investment in communications, many people are not aware of what it does for and on behalf of the people of the Northwest Territories.
By design, law foundations have most of their ‘eggs in one basket’ – the interest they earn on lawyers trust accounts. In the midst of a sustained period of low interest rates, there is no doubt that this is a challenge to manage. A graph of trust income is attached to and form part of this plan. Even if rates do go up in the foreseeable future, interest rate volatility will continue to make planning difficult for the Law Foundation.
On top of this, the Northwest Territories is faced with a shrinking resident private bar, and an uncertain economic future based in large part on a few key natural resource projects. All of this makes the balances in lawyers’ trust accounts, and therefore Law Foundation revenue, even more difficult to predict. If its revenue continues to decline, the Law Foundation may simply become smaller and less relevant over time.
Not only is having sufficient money available each year a challenge for the Law Foundation, it is also a challenge to identify people and organizations in the Northwest Territories with the capacity to put it to good use, in order to advance the mandate of the Law Foundation. Sadly, it is often the case that the people and communities with the greatest need have the least capacity to apply for funds and administer eligible programs.
Other approaching challenges include managing expectations from long-term grantees in the face of changing circumstances, and the upcoming retirement of the Law Foundation’s longstanding Executive Manager.
While it might be operating in one of the smallest jurisdictions in the country, by partnering with provincial counterparts the Northwest Territories Law Foundation can magnify its impact. In part, this collaboration can be facilitated through participation in the Association of Canadian Law Foundations.
Not only are there more partnership opportunities, there are also more means by which the Law Foundation can reach a broader audience. Social media can allow for low cost micro targeting of messages in a manner that is increasingly being harnessed, including for public legal education, by institutions across Canada. Further, there is a trend of citizens feeling increasingly empowered to educate themselves about their legal rights, and even represent themselves in legal disputes. These are both areas where Law Foundation funding can help.
Other Canadian law foundations have begun to diversify their revenue away from an exclusive reliance on lawyers’ trust account interest, through contributions from substantial cy pres awards in civil suits, and creative fines in regulatory prosecutions. The Northwest Territories Law Foundation can pursue the same opportunities to advance its mandate for the people of the Northwest Territories.
Finally, one of the greatest opportunities faced by the Law Foundation is the outstanding and significant need amongst the people of the Northwest Territories for exactly what it provides. Operating in the context of some of the highest crime rates in Canada, and some of the most challenging circumstances for people to retain lawyers, the Northwest Territories Law Foundation has the potential to help fill gaps make a real difference in peoples’ lives.
Vision, Mission & Core Values
Our vision is a Territory where the law is fair, people know their rights, and justice is accessible.
Our mission is to increase legal knowledge and enable access to justice and the tools of justice for the people of the Northwest Territories by supporting and collaborating with like-minded people and organizations.
Our core values are the guiding principles that define the culture of the Northwest Territories Law Foundation.
Our core values are:
Service – Providing for the diverse needs of the people of the Northwest Territories with respect and compassion.
Collaboration – Achieving our aims by working closely with our partners.
Responsibility – Careful and accountable management of Law Foundation resources.
Fairness – Transparent and objective decision-making.
For the 2014-2017 period, the Law Foundation has selected three strategies that will move it towards its vision. These strategies include: 1) proactive pursuit of partners; 2) increased communications; and, 3) sound financial and policy-based management. An array of specific actions supports each of these strategies.
1. Proactive Pursuit of Partners
The Foundation will proactively encourage and cultivate partnerships in the Northwest Territories and beyond that hold the promise of advancing the Foundation’s mission. To achieve this, the Law Foundation will:
- Target projects for funding in regions of the Northwest Territories and focused on objects of the Law Foundation that have been historically underrepresented.
- Canvas law foundations in other Canadian jurisdictions for collaborative projects that can benefit the people of the Northwest Territories.
- Proactively engage and encourage prospective grantees to prepare and refine project proposals for submission to the Law Foundation.
- Raise awareness amongst the bar and judiciary of the Northwest Territories regarding the value of cy pres awards and regulatory fine payments to the Law Foundation.
- Make linkages between national cy pres award administrators and potential grantees in the Northwest Territories. • Explore direct or indirect partnerships with high schools and Aurora College, to collaborate on access to justice and legal education projects, and to encourage legal studies.
2. Increased Communications and Visibility
The Law Foundation will make greater efforts to ensure increased awareness of its programs and recognition of its accomplishments for the benefit of the people of the Northwest Territories. To achieve this, the Law Foundation will:
- Develop and regularly update a new Law Foundation website.
- Ensure that all relevant policies, information packages, and application forms are readily available on the Law Foundation website.
- Use social media tools to increase visibility and communications.
- Submit articles to publications such as the Arctic Obiter, at least annually.
- Publish regular media notices of funding programs and deadlines.
- Take photographs with grant and scholarship recipients, for publication.
- Meet annually with existing and potential grantees, to provide information, answer questions, and obtain feedback.
- Invest in graphic design of the Law Foundation Annual Report.
- Establish an annual meeting or other regular opportunity for coordination between the Law Foundation Directors and the Law Society Executive.
- Present the Law Foundation Annual Report to the Law Society for tabling with the Legislative Assembly.
- Conduct a survey of the bar regarding their awareness of, and priorities for, the Law Foundation.
3. Sound Financial Management and Policy-Based Decision Making
The Law Foundation will continue to steward its financial resources with a view to long-term sustainability, and will be governed by a sound policy framework. To achieve this, the Law Foundation will:
- Review and update its scholarship policies, investment policy, and bylaws.
- Meet at least annually with the Law Foundation investment manager.
- Review, and update as necessary, all Law Foundation grant and scholarship information packages and application forms.
- Review, and update as necessary, the standard Law Foundation contribution agreement.
- Review, and update as necessary, the reserve fund policy, and complete a reserve fund lifespan analysis as needed.
- Continue to engage with the Association of Canadian Law Foundations, to learn from best management practices across the country.
- Continue to closely monitor grantee performance, and make allocation decisions according to results achieved.
- Review and update, as necessary, an orientation guide or handbook for new Law Foundation Directors.
Adopted by the Directors of the NWT Law Foundation this 31st day of October 2014 for the period Nov 1, 2014 to October 31, 2017.