LAO’s president and CEO Robert W. Ward is transitioning to retirement

Posted: Monday, February 9, 2015

On Fri., Feb. 6, 2015, LAO’s president and CEO distributed the email below to staff


As we have been analyzing the state of LAO and its next phase of development in our planning sessions over this fall and winter, the successful and dramatic evolution of our organization over the last number of years is impressive to see.

Through your dedicated efforts and steadfast professionalism, LAO is now serving more clients in more ways more efficiently, effectively and to higher quality than ever. I believe that your “client-first” focus and innovative spirit is helping to reshape our role in the administration of justice in Ontario in many positive ways. You have adapted technology to fit our clients’ real life experiences and expectations; you have responded to the challenges and benefits of greater accountability; you are establishing new ways to foster better measurement of the work we do; and you have dedicated yourselves to continuous and significant improvement of our programs, policies and processes. And you have done all of this while putting LAO on a sound financial foundation after having eliminated our corporate debt in record time.

Despite many operational challenges, ever-more complex client legal needs, and much (and often, quite vocal) resistance to change within a justice system which needs so much by way of reform, you have worked to improve legal aid in our province by reflecting the highest principles of both public service and social justice in your work.

To be sure there is so much yet to be achieved. The many stubborn barriers to access to justice that persist need our constant attention to overcome; the evolving nature of the justice system requires continual re-thinking to ensure our clients are well-served; the changing dynamics of poverty requires us to be updating our programming all the time; and the welfare of our dedicated colleagues in the private bar and clinic system, who all do so much to further our clients’ interests, merits particularly innovative, ongoing support. And these are but a few of the hurdles we have as seemingly ever-present features of our professional landscape.

With this in mind, I have also reflected on the next phase of my own life. I have concluded that now is the right time for me to begin to transition to retirement after a career in public service of nearly 42 years. This would enable LAO to pass the torch to a new generation of leadership to chart the course and commit to the long term effort required to continue to further the interests of our clients.

Accordingly, I have advised the LAO Board of Directors that I intend to step down as LAO President and CEO about 11 months from now. The exact date will be determined with a view to LAO’s operational requirements and the timing of a new CEO’s succession.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the LAO Board for its brilliant work for and unfailing commitment to Legal Aid Ontario and for its resolute support for the LAO Executive, management and staff. The Board has always been rock solid in its determination to ensure it makes the best possible decisions in the interests of our clients, stakeholders, service providers, staff and the public at large. This is a most difficult and delicate balance to maintain for any public sector organization and I am very appreciative of the Board’s wise direction in making this possible for LAO.

LAO has also been particularly fortunate to have had very supportive Ministers over the years. Successive Attorneys General have all well-understood the needs of the legal aid system and each one of them was successful in securing significant additional funding for legal aid. To these Ministers and to their able Deputies and officials, who worked diligently and effectively behind the scenes on these initiatives and many others, much gratitude is owed.

I would like to say a very special thank you to both of the Board Chairs for whom I have worked: Ms Janet Leiper and Professor John McCamus. Their leadership in and compassion for access to justice knows no bounds. They are inspired individuals who, by their professional example, have taught me much about what excellence in the justice system looks like and means. I feel very fortunate to have been on their teams.

It is, of course, you, LAO’s Executive team, management group and staff at all levels with whom I have worked day to day. Your support and enthusiasm to advance LAO’s mandate in aid of the legal needs of the most marginalized of our fellow citizens has been both humbling to behold and a great privilege in which to play a part. I would like to thank you for the honour of being included on LAO’s continuing journey to improve social justice in our province.

With great admiration and deep appreciation for you all,