Rene Larson

Lawyer Candidate – Northwest Region

Priorities

As a sole practitioner in a small law firm, I wish to represent the many sole practitioners and small firms in Ontario and give them a clear and strong voice in Convocation. I pledge to be accessible and to listen to you.

I understand and am committed to the Law Society’s responsibilities to protect the public of Ontario and promote and facilitate access to justice. However, the current administration of the Law Society is too focused on militaristic regulation of lawyers, and has forgotten its role to help and support individual lawyers to become better able to do their job so that the public will be better served. LSO can help and support lawyers AND serve the public!

I want to tackle the looming LSO fiscal disaster. The number of LSO employees continues to increase each year, poised to rise by 6% to 615 according to the 2019 draft budget. Does that ring your alarm bells? Believe it or not, the LSO had an operating DEFICIT of $7.54M on expenditures of $136.64M in 2018, rising by 7.5% to an $8.71M DEFICIT on projected TOTAL expenditures of $142.54M in 2019. Each lawyer should pay $205 more than the set annual fees of $2201 in 2019 to cover the deficit. I want to represent all the lawyers who are concerned about increasing annual fees and increasing numbers of employees every year at LSO. I want to be your Bencher who tackles fiscal responsibility at LSO!

I am extremely concerned about the survival of the County & District libraries as useful and accessible resources for small firm lawyers who cannot afford library resources within their offices. I pledge to fight for your access to affordable library resources! Each of us pays $191 per year for the current library system – will the new LIRN initiative benefit or harm soles and small law firms?

I am committed to more transparency and less secrecy at Bencher meetings – ordinary lawyers should be able to know what is being considered at committee meetings of Benchers, and Bencher consultations should be earlier, allowing for more time and opportunity to provide input. We are busy practitioners and deserve advance notice and respect.

Background

Born in Kenora ON; live in Thunder Bay ON

Married with three children and four grandchildren

Lakehead University Hon. BA (Economics) 1969

Osgoode Hall Law School, York University J.D. 1973

Called to Bar March 20, 1975, in my 44th year of law practice

Harvard Law School – Program in Mediation 1992

Osgoode Professional Development Certificate Elder Law 2017

2017-8 Lecturer Bora Laskin Law School Lakehead University

Sole practitioner in small firm with 3 associate lawyers

Previously City Councillor in Thunder Bay, and served on many community boards and organizations

Currently serving as Past President – Thunder Bay Law Association

Currently serving as Northwestern Ontario Rep on Executive of Federation of Law Associations of Ontario (FOLA), (formerly CDLPA)

Enjoy this candidate’s “Of Counsel” interview while you read more about them!

Candidates I support

Nathan Baker
Cheryl Siran
Douglas Judson
Janis Criger
Jacqueline Horvat
Ryan Alford
Jerry Udell
Joseph Groia
Jeffrey Lem
Malcolm Mercer
Mitchell Kowalski
Sidney Troister
Tanya Walker

Something the LSO does that it should stop doing

LSO should stop treating its members as rule breakers waiting to happen. LSO should HELP and SUPPORT its members to become better lawyers.

Something the LSO doesn't do that it should start doing

LSO needs to establish an electronic direct communication system with its members, so that it can: (1) provide more information to members about what it is thinking about doing or intending to do, and (2) seek earlier input from its members on its proposals. LSO needs to reach out to its members using current technology.

website

email

rene.larson@larsonlawyers.com

social media

linkedIn: rene.larson@larsonlawyers.com
Twitter: @ReneLarson
Facebook: rene.larson@renelarson.com

All Candidates were invited to comment on any or all of the following topics

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expansion of ProBono Ontario with secure Government funding; more legal aid certificates for use with private bar; improvements to unbundling of legal services; LSO sponsored community public education, especially for self reps (take the $900,000 from the advertising program “Our Society is Your Society);

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The total number of elected lawyer benchers should be reduced from 40 to 30. The number of GTA (Toronto) benchers should equal the number of outside GTA (Toronto) benchers to balance the concentration of power. There should be regional geographical Benchers outside of Toronto to ensure Ontario wide representation. Voting for only your geographical Bencher. Paralegal bencher representation should be based upon a ratio of numbers of paralegals to number of lawyers (6300/42600×30=5). No more than 5 lay benchers paid by the Government as the Govt sees fit. There should be an Executive Committee of 5 Benchers to control the budget and supervise/direct the employee administration (615) group. All member benchers to be paid an appropriate full time salary to do a full time job without deduction or contribution by the individual bencher. Let us face it that being a bencher as a part timer will be very difficult.
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I am appalled by the high tuition fees in law schools but believe that the LSO has no business interfering in university tuition fee setting. The costs of preparing for admission to the bar should be borne by students. The high cost of legal education should not affect LSO high standards for examinations & admission to the bar; LSO does not owe anyone admission to the bar just because they paid a lot for their legal education.
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I have signed SOP because I believe in it. I believe that a Statement of Principles is necessary to set out goals and develop programs for equality, diversity, inclusiveness and reconciliation in Ontario’s legal system. LSO must encourage VOLUNTARY participation by members, and provide appropriate free CPD programming to educate all members. Members should NOT be forced to sign the SOP if they conscientiously object. Carrots and incentives and education should be offered, not threats, sticks, beatings and expulsions!

Artificial Intelligence in Legal Service Delivery

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AI can provide more tools in every lawyer’s toolbox so that we lawyers can offer better legal services to the public at lower costs; LSO must be involved in the adoption of AI and help lawyers use AI in their daily practices. We need a hands on approach by LSO so that small practitioners do not need to go through a trial and error process to adopt AI. LSO needs to get on the HELP & SUPPORT LAWYERS bandwagon.
The biggest future challenge for LSO will be to ensure that Ontario has its own AI enabled lawyers to serve the public. There will be challenges from internet based AI service providers outside of Ontario who will attempt to deliver legal advice and services directly to the public through the internet without utilizing lawyers licensed in Ontario. Ontario’s best service to the public should come from LSO educated lawyers using LSO approved and recommended AI technologies in their practices.
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If LSO has chosen a role to prepare students for admission to the bar, then I strongly believe in paid articling for one year with the LSO offering financial incentives and training to soles and small firms to take on articling students. I support LPP as an alternative for those who cannot find articling positions.

The more radical approach (which I am currently favouring) would be for LSO to get out of educating law students, and set out high admission standards which must be met AND administer admission examinations for those who wish to enter the profession. Once admitted there would be compulsory low cost CPD programming for three years to teach them how to practice, and no one should be allowed to start a law practice for at least three years after call to the bar.

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This is a major area that LSO is behind in helping its members. There should be more LSO assistance in developing acceptable forms, policies and procedures for implementing unbundled legal services by Ontario lawyers. This should not fall on sole and small firm lawyers to adopt unbundling on a trial and error basis. LSO needs to give its members example methods to easily deliver unbundled legal services. If there are court challenges on methodology, then LSO and LawPro should be in court to support the lawyers using LSO approved methods.
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It is difficult to imagine how this could apply to law firms with less than 20 members, but it does appear to be more efficient for both the firms and the LSO for firms of more than 20 lawyers.
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Yes, there should be a stated objective requirement for lawyers to be technologically competent in Ontario for 2020 and beyond. The internet is full of evil traps and bad intentioned people. Here is another BIG area that LSO can reach out to help lawyers become better in practicing law and thereby serve the public of Ontario in better fashion.

Reconciliation and Indigenous Communities

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LSO has a role in participating in reconciliation efforts in the justice system. LSO should be supporting to lawyers in finding ways to better service the legal needs of indigenous communities. By offering low or no cost educational programs to lawyers, LSO can do its part in Ontario’s responsibilities to implement reconciliation.
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I do not believe in non-member ownership of law firms. Lawyers can finance their own business finances We do not need large accounting firms taking over and dominating legal business. If we want to support the independence of the legal profession, we do not need alternative business structures that are run by not-for-profit organizations to suck away business from hard working private lawyers. Evidence from other countries seems to indicate failure of this ABS business models for legal profession.
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LSO’s work to provide Ontario’s lawyers with model contingency fee agreements has been commendable. This is an example of HELPING and SUPPORTING lawyers to provide valuable and needed legal services to the public.

Specific Enhancements to Licensing System

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If we continue with the current requirement for articling experience as a preferred method for experiential traning, then LSO must incentivize soles and small law firms to open up paid articling positions. LSO must consider some form of financial incentive for soles and smalls. LSO must provide free training with appropriate forms, schedules and policies to follow. LSO cannot expect soles and smalls to invent the wheel, and it must provide flexible interpretation of training requirements to recognize that every sole and smalls have unique practices that may not deliver appropriate opportunities to cover every desired experiential goal. LSO supervision of articling should apply equally to all articling principals, whether in large or small or sole practices – no one should be exempt. LSO should endorse best practices for articling and regularly communicate precedents and recommendations to follow best practices.

I am personally leaning towards entrance exams which clearly have fixed admission standards to be met with a high percentage of achievement such as 80%, and then LSO can carry out its legislated function to educate and train the successful qualifiers during the first three years after admittance. No person admitted would be allowed to start a law practice until after successful completion of the first three years working under a practicing lawyer.

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LSO should be in not-for-profit delivery of CPD services to promote professionalism objectives. Leave substantive legal education to lower cost or no cost providers in the private sector. Webinars and their recordings should be the most used delivery method in order to reach all members across Ontario. Lawyers should be enticed by the timely delivery of the subject matter of the webinar containing relevant and useful forms and examples that can be used in their daily practices. Lawyers should not be deterred by the cost of the program and LSO programs should not be priced to deliver profits to LSO. Look at the excellent one hour free webinars offered by larger law firms now. Give lawyers the incentives to sacrifice their valuable time (either office or home) to educate themselves to become better lawyers; low or no cost convenient webinar recordings will incent lawyers to take many courses beyond their LSO requirements. Dissemination of practical and useful precedents will raise the overall quality of lawyering in Ontario. LSO can HELP and SUPPORT lawyers become better legal service providers to the public of Ontario.
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Section 4.1 of the Law Society Act states that “It is a function of the Society to ensure that …. all persons who practise law in Ontario …. meet standards of learning, professional competence and professional conduct that are appropriate for the legal services they provide….”

LSO’s primary purpose or function is to ensure that lawyers meet the appropriate standards of learning, professional competence and professional conduct. To me this means that LSO must help, assist and support its members to meet these standards. The current philosophy of the administration of LSO is to compel compliance with standards through threats of punishment for a lawyer’s failure to meet the standards. I advocate for a change in philosophy so that LSO HELPS lawyers to comply by the most accessible and low or no cost education process, encouraging lawyers to better themselves and in turn their services to the public. The LSO should assume its legislated responsibility by educating and helping lawyers to learn and improve. If LSO can take a HELP FIRST attitude for a lawyer’s failure to meet a defined standard, this will turn the organization around and propel it to new heights of achievement in serving the legal needs of the Ontario public. Carrots and incentives, not sticks and punishment! If an individual lawyer fails to meet the standard(s), the first thing LSO should do is look at how it can help that lawyer become better, and the second thing LSO should do is to assume responsibility for the failure and examine how it can improve its assistance to lawyers in general to eliminate similar failures in the future.

Throughout my answers you will find many examples of how LSO can support its member lawyers.

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Taking away the personal embarrassment of admitting the need for help with mental health should be the goal of LSO. The current MAP strategy for mental health is a good start and can be improved upon if LSO adopts a HELP perspective for its members. Free CPD webinars and recordings should be offered to raise awareness among members of the possibility that a member is experiencing a mental health issue without realizing or recognizing the problem. Local law associations should be encouraged to watch for signs of mental health issues among their members, and to suggest proactive treatment measures on a confidential basis to individual members.
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Diversity and Inclusivity Priorities

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LSO’s role is to set out the goals and provide educational no cost programs designed to achieve those goals through voluntary efforts of lawyers. Societal change must come through carrots and incentives, not threats and compulsion. LSO must support enforcement of Canada’s and Ontario’s laws but should not write or make rules on top of Canadian and Ontario laws.

Scope of practice for paralegals and non-licensees

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This will be an ongoing issue into the future for LSO. Entrance and educational achievement requirements for paralegals are lower than lawyers, and paralegals should recognize that their scope of practice cannot match that of lawyers. The Law Society’s legislated function is to set the standards of learning, professional competence and professional conduct for lawyers and for paralegals. Expansion of paralegal practice into current lawyer areas must be carefully reviewed and debated well in advance of any expansion. There will always be tension.

Practice by non-licensees is difficult to imagine how this can legally occur. LSO must vigilantly monitor and prosecute offenders. How LSO deals with internet providers outside of Ontario offering and providing legal services to the public of Ontario will be a major issue, and might require legislative changes of the laws of Ontario and Canada. LSO must monitor and provide briefings to Ontario and Canada as required in particular circumstances.

FOLA asks: Thoughts on Funding Staffed Local Law Libraries

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I am extremely concerned about the survival of the County & District libraries as useful and accessible resources for soles and small firm lawyers who cannot afford full library resources within their offices. I pledge to fight for your access to affordable library resources! Each of us pays $191 per year for the current library system – will the new LIRN initiative benefit or harm soles and small law firms? I intend to monitor closely the incoming LIRN organization, and to use funding by LSO as a means to keep communications open with LIRN and to enhance future local library services for soles and smalls.

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