Fellow Lawyers, thank you for taking the time to read my election statement.
Why I’m Running
I was inspired to run after reading the Law Times article “Young Lawyers Face Challenges in Bencher Election”. The article highlighted for me that there is a generation of lawyers whose concerns are not being heard and addressed – a generation that I am a part of. I remember reading the article a few days before nominations closed and came to the conclusion that I should run in this election.
As a candidate in the 2019 LSO Bencher election, I hope to champion initiatives that will support lawyers in sole and small firm practice, recent calls, younger lawyers and women. I am running for Bencher of the Law Society of Ontario because I want to bring a fresh perspective to how our profession is regulated and represent early-career lawyers in the Law Society’s elected leadership. I firmly believe that the regulation of the legal profession should reflect the demographics of the legal profession and the lawyers within it. Currently, close to 75% of benchers sitting at Convocation were called in the 1980s. There are no benchers who were called within the past 10 years. Despite the vast number of new and recent calls in this profession, we are severely underrepresented within our governing body. The decisions made by the Law Society apply to us nonetheless.
A Little Bit About Me
I am a 2014 call to the bar and the founder of Tailor Law Professional Corporation. I began my practice as a sole proprietor in my first year of call and am familiar with the common challenges that lawyers in sole and small firm practice face.
Board of Directors
Many Feathers is a non-profit creating local community spaces focused on food security in urban and rural settings across Canada.
Women’s Legal Mentorship Program
South Asian Women’s Legal Mentorship Program
University of Ottawa’s Business of Law Program
1. Supporting Soles and Smalls
The LSO needs to start helping and supporting its membership – especially those in sole and small firm practice. In my mind, supporting sole proprietors and small firm lawyers is an access to justice issue.
Lawyers in these practices are on the frontlines of rendering services to the public and face unique challenges:
- Lack of support for taking parental leave;
- Isolation from other lawyers who can provide precedents, guidance or a listening ear
- Financial pressures to keep their practices afloat due to non-payment by clients, continuously increasing licensing fees;
- Safety and security concerns when disgruntled clients or opposing parties decide to take their frustrations out on you.
The LSO needs to recognize that investing in initiatives that help members in sole and small firm practice is investing in access to justice because it keeps us in business and providing services to the public.
2. Supporting the Future Leaders of this Profession
The LSO needs to listen to younger lawyers and their concerns regarding articling, the LPP and the exorbitant cost of obtaining a legal education. The cost of legal education at existing Canadian law schools is at odds with the access to justice and the public interest mandate of our regulatory body.
Access to the profession should not be limited to those who can afford the high cost of admission. We cannot have a representative judiciary if we don’t have a representative bar. We won’t have a representative bar if we don’t invest and support the future leaders of our profession.
3. Parental Leave Assistance Program
As part of my platform, I support expansion of the LSO’s Parental Leave Assistance Program (PLAP), which provides financial benefits to practising lawyers in firms of five lawyers or fewer who do not have access to other maternity, parental, or adoption financial benefits under public or private plans and who meet the eligibility criteria.
PLAP was one of the nine recommendations developed by the Law Society’s Retention of Women Working Group. It was designed to empower women to take charge of their careers and assist in maintaining the viability of small firms and sole practices. While it was not developed to be an income replacement program, the funding helps with defraying some of the overhead costs associated with maintaining a practice during a leave. While it is a good start, the program could implement initiatives that have been adopted by other provincial law societies.
For example, the Barreau du Québec’s “Bébé Bonus” program allows a new parent who has taken a minimum 6-week leave to reclaim one-half of their annual dues paid to the Barreau.
4. Coaching and Advisor Network
I believe in expanding the existing Coaching and Advisor Network and developing formal mentorship programs that promotes the transfer of knowledge from senior practitioners to junior lawyers (both substantive and practical advice). As a profession, we do a poor job of transferring knowledge from one generation of lawyers to the next. This is especially problematic for lawyers who start their own practices early on who lack the resources and support to effectively render services to the public.
Training newer members of your profession to ensure that the public is receiving quality services is not a novel issue. The Law Society should look at how other professions deal with this problem. For example, the College of Psychotherapists deals with this problem through their quality assurance program. A peer assessor periodically reviews your case load to identify and rectify problems. For psychotherapists it is mandatory that practitioners in their first year of practice on their own have a senior practitioner review their caseload monthly. LSO could implement a similar approach through the Coaching and Advisor Network in a way that makes sense for our profession.
Implementing a peer assessor program means there is a proactive approach to fixing potential problems instead of the punitive approach we currently take as a self-regulating profession. Likewise, there should be a mandatory course for practitioners who are entering into practice on their own that teaches the requisite business skills and specific requirements of the Law Society in order to succeed in private practice on your own.
5. Legal Education and Licensing
The LSO needs to listen to younger lawyers and their concerns regarding articling, the LPP and the exorbitant cost of obtaining a legal education. The cost of legal education at existing Canadian law schools is at odds with the access to justice and the public interest mandate of our regulatory body. It acts as a barrier to entry to the profession and only those with the means to pay the tuition or those willing to incur significant debt will have access. This impacts representation in our bar and judiciary. The Law Society has an obligation to regulate it.
Regarding licensing, I believe that all schools should adopt Lakehead’s model where your third year of law school is experiential learning. This will ensure licensees have the competencies to work in the field. I understand that this is a national accreditation issue, and the LSO cannot address this issue on it’s own. The LSO is, however, a key stakeholder in this narrative and should engage in discussions with law schools and the profession to find a meaningful solution to this problem. The LSO should engage in conversations with the Federation of Law Societies which approves law school curriculum to address concerns around the cost of entering this profession, barriers to entry and promoting practical legal education.
6. Voting ‘No’ to Expanding Paralegal Scope of Practice into Family Law
I practice in family law and so do the associates in my practice. Family law work is the bulk of what we do.
I do not support unsupervised paralegal practice in family law, for many reasons. Family law work is complex and nuanced. I firmly believe that it requires a skillset that only a law degree and years of reading caselaw can provide. No licensing credential can be a substitute for that. The stakes in family law are high. You often work with vulnerable parties – children with disabilities and women escaping domestic violence. Family lawyers work with some of the most marginalized members of our society. Working with this demographic in any capacity (even if only drafting) requires an understanding of caselaw and legislation. As family lawyers we don’t simply fill out forms. We draft applications and motions with our legal arguments in mind which is an ability that we have acquired through years of training. That is the value we bring when providing family law services to the public.
I have spoken to a number of my colleagues running for bencher about this issue and no one seems to have a solution to the conflict of interest that will be created with the proposed changes to the licensing structure. There is an inherent conflict of interest created by unsupervised paralegal practice in this area. I’ve had numerous cases where negotiating separation agreements fails and I’ve had to advise my client to file an application or emergency motion. Would a paralegal advise their client of same if it meant losing that client to another firm? While we hope that all licensees would act ethically, it does not make sense that a regulator would support a licensing structure that creates conflicts of interest. For emergency motions, the lawyer taking on the file would have to start from scratch because they were not involved in any of the negotiations up to that point, resulting in delays and another Access to Justice barrier. The client has to pay twice to get a legal professional up to speed on their matter. This is where I see potential for supervised paralegal practice as part of a family law firm. I can see the work of paralegals being useful for drafting financial statements and other forms on Divorcemate to assist family lawyers with their matters, similar to how law clerks currently support family lawyers. This way, the client benefits from the expertise of the lawyer and if you need to go to court, a lawyer can represent for the file. At the end of the day, the legal professional that takes on the matter from the beginning should be able to work on the file to completion.
In my view, the expansion of paralegal scope of practice will hurt rather than help access to justice initiatives. If the Law Society wants to improve access to justice in family law, the Law Society should be compiling a committee report on the procedural hurdles to accessing justice in this area. We should be advocating for a Unified Family Court across the province, and electronic service and filing options. Expanding paralegal scope of practice is not the answer.
7. Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
The demographic of our Convocation should reflect the demographic of our profession and the society in which it exists. This includes those from equity, diversity and inclusion seeking groups. I support the Statement of Principles requirement and the other recommendations made in the Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees Working Group Final Report. As a racialized licensee myself, it is disappointing that there has been so much controversy surrounding the Statement of Principles requirement. I view the Statement of Principles as an important step in recognizing and remedying systemic bias within our profession.
8. Financial Accountability
The LSO has been running a deficit budget for years in order to maintain operations, core functions and the strategic priorities of the Law Society. Based on the 2019 Annual Budget, the LSO is projecting an $8.7 million deficit for 2019 (See page 9). The LSO is subsidizing the deficit with E&O surplus investment income and reserve fund balances. Using reserve funds to subsidize a deficit budget is not a sustainable model. The LSO should be running a balanced budget and cutting operational costs in order to sustain a balanced budget. Benchers at the Law Society should be treating annual revenue with the same level of care as revenue generated within their own practices.
So how can we further the other objectives listed here without running a further deficit? The key in my mind is efficiency and prioritizing the existing budget. Our steadily increasing annual fees should not be considered an infinite revenue source for the Law Society. Reserve funds shouldn’t be subsidizing our operations. The goal is to streamline processes to obtain a leaner and more cost-effective Law Society by looking at annual revenues generated and reduction of associated costs.
Operating on a deficit budget is not a sustainable model for any organization.
How Do I Vote?
Thank you for taking the time to read about my candidacy. If my platform resonates with you, I hope you will consider voting for me. Voting is open from April 15 to April 30th. All lawyers (even those who are not currently practicing) have 40 votes in this election. You can cast 20 votes for candidates in the Toronto region and 20 votes for candidates outside of the Toronto region. I am running for a seat outside of Toronto in the Central West region (counties of Bruce, Dufferin, Grey and Wellington, and the regional municipalities of Halton and Peel).
Voter turnout for the 2015 election was 33.84% which means that most eligible voters did not vote in the election. I encourage you to be engaged with this process and to cast a vote!