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Why I’m Running

I was a Law Society of Ontario Bencher for eight years. I proudly served as the Chair of Government Relations for many of those years. I saw firsthand the respect our elected leaders and the public had for our profession and the Benchers who guide the profession.

I’ve decided to run as a Bencher again. Here are the reasons why.

Pride in our profession

These past four years has seen a decline in how Benchers and the profession are viewed. No wonder. If you have not done so, you should read what Joe Groia, a current Bencher, said in an article where he describes what he’s witnessed at Convocation – antics that serve to undermine our credibility and public standing as lawyers.

Sadly, Joe reports that “civility is at an all-time low,” and that the current Convocation is “a case study on incivility and the disregard of the public interest.”

I’m running again because our profession deserves better. The public expects better, and we must do better to safeguard the independence of our profession.

A commitment to independence and good governance

In the last Bencher election in 2019, we witnessed the first instance of partisan politics infiltrating the governance of the LSO when a group of candidates ran as a slate, almost taking over. Candidates for the slate were elected by a minority of voters because the majority of the vote was split, and many lawyers did not vote. As I‘ve said in the past: “Our independence should warrant more attention by members of the bar.”

The governance of the profession is no place for a whipped vote. Our profession is large, and we hold diverse views on a variety of issues. This diverse set of views must be heard at Convocation.

The possibility that a group would attempt to take control of Convocation with a singular purpose and belief system stymies the very independence that warrants our separation from the state.

This is why I am running as a member of the Bencher Good Governance Coalition, a diverse group of experienced, respected lawyers with a common vision that is founded on a basic principle: the good governance of the Law Society of Ontario matters.

Without careful stewardship, our independence will diminish to the point that the province might as well appoint Benchers. At that point, independence will be a fiction.

Good governance serves the public interest

Part of the bargain for the profession’s independence is that we govern ourselves in the public interest, with a legislated mandate to “facilitate access to justice.”

Sadly, I have seen very little happen in the last four years that demonstrates that Convocation is meeting this mandate.

It’s a shame because a proactive Society can play a vital role in advancing access to justice in Ontario through leadership.

I know this because I’ve personally been a part of such efforts in my previous terms as a Bencher. These are just some of the things we were able to work in the public interest:

  • We persuaded the Wynne government to provide an additional $100 million for Legal Aid Funding,
  • We advocated for and obtained federal interim funding to cover the increased number of refugee hearings,
  • We pushed back on the insurance industry’s attempt to limit the use of contingency fees, and
  • We successfully advocated for the expansion of the Unified Family Court.

In our current political and social climate, the Law Society`s voice must be strong and clear so as to ensure that public confidence in our profession is maintained, and the views of our members are considered by governments at both the provincial and federal levels.

Legal Aid

Through our government relations work and advocacy, we obtained a commitment from the last provincial government for $100 million more in funding.  This added funding was crucial to ensuring that the least financially able among us are able to obtain access to legal representation. We must continue to advocate for sufficient funding.

In 2017 and 2018, I chaired the Legal Aid Working Group, which issued a report on the Law Society’s role in legal aid, called “An Abiding Interest.”  The report recognized that, although the responsibility for broader legal aid policies ultimately rests with the Legislature and the people of Ontario, the Law Society also has a role to play.

It must champion the need for a robust legal aid system to both levels of government and to share the profession’s insights to ensure that the profession’s concerns are known. It must support the need for a strong and independent certificate bar to represent the less fortunate, particularly against the interests of the state.

Together, we need to be a strong voice for maintaining and strengthening legal aid, including increased compensation for those who provide the service and increased eligibility for those needing the service.

Unified Family Court

After many years of advocacy, the Law Society, along with other participants, successfully petitioned Ottawa and the province to expand the Unified Family Court. In 2018, $72 million of funding was approved to pay for federally-appointed judges to sit in. Speaking to the Federal Finance Committee in Ottawa, I applauded this initiative:

“Outside criminal law, investments in our country’s courts rarely make headlines, but they should.  No area of law affects Canadians more than family law.  The 2018 federal budget took a big step to improving our family court system.

Last month’s federal budget included $77.2 million over four years and then $20.8 million per year ongoing to support the expansion of the unified family courts, creating 39 new judicial positions in Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

In Ontario, funding will support phase one of Ontario’s plan to immediately expand unified family courts to Belleville, Picton, Pembroke, Kitchener, Welland, Simcoe, Cayuga, and St. Thomas.  This is welcome news for a system many believe… needs significant improvement.”

As family law lawyers are well aware, without UFC, most couples and families seeking to divorce need to appear before two courts: the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and its federally appointed judges for divorce or for division of property, and the Ontario Court of Justice for custody issues.

It has taken decades of work by many, including the Law Society, to get the political support to extend UFC throughout the province.  The funding we secured in 2018 was a big step forward.

There is still much work to do:

  • Funding was provided for some but not all jurisdictions in Ontario.
  • In some areas of the province, the provincial government needs to build or finish new infrastructure to provide for UFC.
  • Once this occurs, we need to return to Ottawa with a strong, unified voice and seek a further financial commitment to appoint the judges necessary to complete this important initiative.

No further progress on this important issue has been made in the last four years of Convocation. We need to return to a leadership role on this important issue. 

Contingency fees and the right to representation

As Chair of Government Relations, I responded to complaints from the insurance industry that contingency fees were driving up the cost of auto insurance. In reality, capping contingency fees would have resulted in fewer claims being pursued, and fewer accident victims being compensated for tort damages.

After several representations, the Law Society prevailed in ensuring that the current contingency legislation was not amended. In return, the Law Society introduced new rules to ensure transparent and fair contingency fees. This requires a careful review to ensure it meets the needs of the public and the profession.

This is a great example of how, with good governance in place, we can balance public concerns about transparency with the need for continued representation.

Ethics and competency require focus

At its core, the Law Society has a simple mandate: regulate lawyers in the public interest. This mandate requires us to ensure that lawyers are properly qualified and providing quality services to the public.

To meet this mandate, we need to put the majority of our focus on the competency and ethics of lawyers practicing in Ontario.

This means making sure that:

  • Lawyers have sufficient access to training, and resources that assist them in their practice.
  • We have a robust discipline process that can investigate and address complaints, in a manner that balances the rights of licensees and the larger public interest.

In the post-Covid working world, training, access to resources and mentorship are even more important than ever before. Working from home has benefits but isolation becomes a greater issue.

Resources such as county law association libraries are a great asset to be leveraged, not cut.

The Law Society should work with the Federation of Ontario Law Associations and the counties to facilitate delivery of programs to assist lawyers as we adjust the new realities of today, and to ensure our high standards as a profession are maintained.

I want to make sure Convocation returns its focus to these critical elements of the Law Society’s mandate.

Technology in practice: We must keep up with the pace of change

As technology continues to evolve, the Law Society needs to ensure that it protects the public interest, while ensuring it does not stifle innovation and competition. The use of technology by lawyers has yet to be fully addressed by the Law Society. We need to develop appropriate practice standards for the profession for the use of technology in legal practices, and need to ensure those standards evolve as technology changes.

The Regulatory Sandbox for Innovative Technological Legal Services is a good start on developing an understanding of how technology is being used, but more work will be required.

Careful consideration of new services provided to the public will need to be made in the next term and those considerations will require interfacing with government.  I hope to provide the necessary stewardship as these issues evolve.

Legal accreditation

In my previous terms as a Bencher, we struggled with the process by which lawyers are admitted into our profession. We undertook extensive consultation and debated the merits of both articling and LPP.

We rightly left open both options to ensure our profession is accessible, particularly to equity seeking groups who had disproportionately been left out of articling.

Through this process, however, I have come to believe that we look at admission into the profession the wrong way. We examine it solely as a post-LLB issue.  That is, we look at the issues aspiring lawyers are about to face in their careers, with little thought to the financial burden created by seven or eight years of post-secondary education:

  • Inflation and cutbacks in provincial funding for post-secondary education have significantly contributed to escalating costs.
  • The result is that the cost of admission to the legal profession, both in time and money, is a significant barrier to entry for many.
  • Mounting costs to law students has had a real impact on the Law Society admittance policy.

Jurisdictions such as Quebec and England have streamlined their admission process. We too must do better, starting with a consideration of educational options that not only ensure lawyers are competent, but also ensures that students do not have to enter the profession under the burden of a crushing debt.

This means that Convocation needs to consider other paths to expedite admission to the profession.  It is not only time to think outside the box but to look outside the box for longer-term solutions.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

The Supreme Court of Canada has said law societies have an overarching interest in protecting the values of human rights and equality. It is part of their obligation as public actors. Part of the responsibility of governing the profession is the responsibility to support a pluralistic society.

The policies of the Law Society must consider these values, and decisions made by Convocation must support these values. EDI manifests itself not only in direct policies but in the considerations of all policies.

One concrete example of this during my time as a Bencher is our efforts to address the articling shortage, which disproportionately effected racialized lawyers. Society benefits when all of society is represented in the legal profession. It was imperative to address this barrier to entry to the profession. The Law Practice Program was one solution to provide a pathway to the profession. We still face challenges that require bringing an EDI perspective to bear. This is our core business, not a diversion from our responsibilities. The range of voices in the Good Governance Coalition will provide meaningful guidance in this area.

LSO fees

We need to continue to ensure LSO fees remain reasonable. In my previous Bencher term, I served on the Audit and Finance Committee. At that time, we conducted extensive program reviews to ensure expenses were under control. We also sought cost recovery where appropriate.  For example, service charges were levied for late payments and filings to cover the administrative costs. We need to continue program cost reviews and seek cost recovery where appropriate as part of the measures to keep LSO fees in check, while balancing that with the provision of services that serve and support our profession.

There needs to be a more stable view of the Compensation Fund, which has driven fees up or down over the years as we address claims for misdeeds by a very few.

Bencher Good Governance Coalition

Having already served eight years as a Bencher, I was quite content that I had done my bit for the profession when my last term ended in 2019. I felt that my contribution was tangible and significant. I did not plan on running for another term.

However, I was approached by members of the Bencher Good Governance Coalition about running again.

In an article entitled “The dangers of voter apathy at the Law Society of Ontario,” Joe Groia warned us about the dangers of apathy, and urged the profession to get involved.

The antics described by Joe Groia gaining more attention, and casting our public image as a profession in a negative light. In that article, he quoted me imploring the profession to become more engaged in order to stop this. I still believe that our independence as a profession is not just a great privilege but an important pillar of our civil society.

As the Supreme Court of Canada stated in 1982: “The independence of the Bar from the state in all its pervasive manifestations is one of the hallmarks of a free society.” I fear that this independence, no matter how seemingly robust, is just as fragile as any legislated governance regime if we do not stay engaged and act to protect it.

Impressed by those running under the banner of the Bencher Good Governance Coalition, and its simple but important vision, I agreed to run as part of it.

Simply put, I believe that the pledge to ensure independent, experienced and diverse voices at Convocation is essential. I also believe good and respectful governance is what the profession expects of us and that our continued independence demands.

Please lend your support by voting for the members of the Coalition who are running in Toronto and across the province.

My pledge

I am proud of our profession and understand the important role our profession has in making society a better place for all. But we cannot take for granted that our institutions will always serve the public good in the way they have in the past. If elected, I pledge that I will continue to work hard to make sure that we have a profession that is independent, a source of pride for our members, and truly works in the public interest.