Being a Bencher
Some thoughts on the election campaign.
I wrote an article about my experiences as a bencher over the last eight years. It has had some nice responses. I have also sent out two emails to many of my contacts about the bencher election and hoped it would be enough for my common sense, smart readers to make the right decision. But one of my readers asked if what Fullstoppers are saying in some of their ads is true. And it has led me to write once again about half-truths, and the strategy to throw “Jell-O” on the wall to see what might stick with the electors. So let’s do a reality check.
1. Let's talk about fees. Yes, the LSO does have more staff than the College of Physicians and Surgeons. Jell-O on the wall. Their ratio of staff to doctors is 1 staff to 118 doctors. The LSO ratio is 1 staff to 121 licensees. We are not out of line. No bloat.
Who likes to pay more fees? No one. Not big firms, not small firms, and certainly not solos. But are our fees much higher than any other regulated profession like doctors, psychologists, etc? More Jell-O on the wall. Comparing apples to oranges. No one seemed to want to ask if the fees are comparable; they just said that ours are higher. In 2022 the doctors paid $1,725 and we paid $1,813. But no one seems to ask what it is that we are paying for, that other regulated professions might not. Or better yet, what do we get for our money?
LIRN and county libraries—that is $200 per lawyer—who else provides libraries to 57,000 professionals across a province bigger than Texas. 45 different county libraries? The doctors don’t have this.
Repairs, replacements and maintenance of a 200 year old heritage building-do we just let it fall down when the roof needs replacement or the foundation is crumbling-it is our building. The doctors don’t have to do that.
The compensation fund that compensates victims of lawyer fraud and theft. No other profession that I know of holds trust monies for clients with the potential to steal them. This year, we face an extra $5,000,000 in potential claims. An extra $90 per lawyer. Do we have a duty to the public to make sure our lawyers aren’t crooks and if they are, should our attitude be: too bad for the people that trusted them? Actually we are required by statute to do this. The doctors aren’t.
We support Pro Bono law. The Fullstoppers’ mantra seems to be, “every man for himself” if it is going to cost us money.
The great library – a resource for every lawyer in Ontario. It benefits us – but it costs money.
Providing Trustee services – what happens when a lawyer dies or abandons his or her practice and has made no provision for succession? We have a duty to protect the public. And with an aging bar, this is a growing problem. Our fees pay for this service. It costs about $2,000,000 a year. And by the way, what is your succession plan if you get sick, or die?
Lawyer Help Lines and the Coach and Advisory Network. We know the importance of mentoring to a lawyer’s success. Every man for himself again? I prefer to make sure lawyers are competent and succeed. Every lawyer's reputation is my reputation too. Does anyone like lawyer jokes?
Practice supports, reviews and spot audits to ensure lawyers are managing client money properly; the LSO has a vast array of materials on law office management and changing laws. How does our CLE compare to other professionals?
Complaints, investigations and tribunals: a huge undertaking given the thousands of complaints alone that the LSO gets, each one of which has to be investigated and managed. That takes time and money.
Providing a Member Assistance Programme to assist lawyers with burnout and mental health issues.
Supporting the Federation of Ontario Law Associations which could not manage without the support and which coordinates the efforts of all 45 county law associations.
Supporting the national Federation of Canadian Law Societies. What does it do? Lots of stuff, including lobbying the Federal Government on behalf of lawyers, accrediting law schools, and running the NCA programme for foreign trained students.
The fees are not comparable to those of other regulated professionals for the services provided to both lawyers and the public. And if you think you get no value for your fees, think again.
2. What gets cut to save a dollar? Do you appreciate that for every dollar we save in fees, the LSO needs to cut $50,000 from the budget? If you want to save $100 in fees, tell me where you want to cut $5,000,000 from the budget. The Fullstoppers will not tell you because they have no ideas. They will say let’s find efficiencies. Tell me where you want me to find efficiencies. Criticism but no ideas and no leadership.
3. And what about what lawyers pay for liability insurance? It is cheap given the potential damages for errors and omissions. Or would you like to go out and find your own insurance?
4. The Fullstoppers ad misleads you about the Comp fund. A Fullstopper takes credit for identifying “misappropriation” from the Compensation Fund for operations. There has never been misappropriation from the Comp Fund for operations. Certain items involving loss prevention work were allocated to the fund historically as part of the budgeting process that were part of and in addition to funds for direct compensation. It was an accounting item and nothing more. Same dollars-just different line items. The approach in budgeting was changed in 2018 and that portion of the allocation moved back to operations. But it was changed in 2018 before this bencher was elected in 2019.
5. Some lawyers resent mandatory CPD. Did you know that according to the Competency Task Force’s research, there is no regulated profession that we found and certainly no law society In Canada, the US, the UK that does not have some kind of mandatory CPD. And some of these Fullstoppers have publicly complained about 12 hours a year. Do you feel hard done by to spend 12 hours on continuing education? You cannot take 12 hours a year to learn something? anything? and if you know it all, 12 hours to confirm that what you know is right. And the demands on our profession are changing rapidly. We need to keep up to date and ensure that every lawyer does so.
My view of things: Candidates focussed on saving money without considering consequences put self-regulation at risk. From what I see, the FS mantra is personal freedom, every man (and a few women) for themselves. Deregulate, leave us alone, butt out of our lives, cut our fees.
The future of the profession requires supports for lawyers, both in practice and personally, planning for a rapidly changing world, and making sure that all of our lawyers are competent, healthy and able to serve the public. Younger lawyers in particular need to know that they are supported.
In my view, if we elect competent, experienced common sense leaders, the issues will take care of themselves.
At least, that is what I think.