Robert Besunder

Lawyer Bencher Candidate – Toronto Region

Priorities

“Access to justice” has become a catch-phrase in this campaign. It’s an important notion, but the solutions are complex and will only be meaningful if the Law Society takes a step back and looks at what access to justice really means. The high cost of legal services is one part of the discussion, which in turn gives rise to discussions about the cost of being a lawyer or paralegal (including LSO fees, insurance costs, etc.), and also issues such as advertising.

None of that will mean anything without a group of licencees who are (a) competent, (b) healthy, and (c) feel that the Law Society is their partner in achieving these first two goals. The Law Society needs to fulfill its public protection mandate first by looking at its own licencees as individuals which it supports, through affordable, quality education, through active involvement in workplace conditions, and through active encouragement and participation in making legal services accessible to the public.

My priorities will include a thorough review of the licencing and CPD arms of the Law Society, with a view to raising the level of competence among licencees. Another priority will be to see paralegals treated as equal partners in the process of providing accessible legal services to the public – yes, paralegals and lawyers have different backgrounds and skill-sets, but different should not then mean a hierarchical bias against or in favour of one group or the other. Mutual respect needs to be fostered.

Background

I am a sole practitioner in Toronto, whose focus over the past three decades has been on litigation.

Prior to starting my own firm in 2016, I worked in a small firm primarily practicing insurance defence and plaintiff personal injury litigation, as well as some family law.

I was called to the bar in 1991 after graduating from McGill University’s Faculty of Law in 1989.

Since 2015, I have also carried on a practice as a mediator and arbitrator, having received the Q.Med. designation from the ADR Institute of Ontario. Since 2006, I have also sat as a Deputy Judge of the Small Claims Court for the Central East Region.

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

Candidates I support

Caryma Sa’d
Tania Perlin
Janis Criger
Darryl Singer

Something the LSO does that it should stop doing

The Law Society has become a “flavour of the month” club, where there is the appearance of active involvement in supporting positions and ideology, but very little by way of a guiding principle behind the positions being taken. An issue like diversity and inclusion is typical of the manner in which the Law Society espouses a position, but then does not follow through in any real way. Inclusion will not come from words alone (including a statement of principles), but the Law Society focuses on words and not action. Inclusion will come from a hands-on approach, where licencees can participate in workshops or exchanges, person to person, as opposed to just saying the words.

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

The Law Society needs to be actively engaged in providing affordable and practical CPD programs for its licencees. Especially for sole practitioners, those in small firms, and licencees who are just starting out, the cost of quality programming is often prohibitive. If the mandate of the Law Society includes protecting the public interest, then ensuring that licencees are competent, through accessible and meaningful education is a good start on fulfilling that mandate. This needs to start in the licencing process as well, and I would like to see a return to practical skill development as part of the curriculum. Self-study alone does not ensure qualified practitioners.

email

bencher2019@besunder.ca

social media

https://www.linkedin.com/in/robertbesunder/

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As noted above, access to justice starts by having a competent profession. It also depends on the Law Society removing economic barriers to the practice of law, which often drive up the cost of services. The Law Society also needs to start encouraging lawyers to see themselves as public servants, with a privileged position having a licence to practice law, and less as “stakeholders” and businesses. Yes, law is a business, but at its heart, law involves serving the interests of justice, which by its nature entails public service.
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I am in favour of reforming the Law Society governance model, to limit the terms of Benchers. As much as I may respect individual Benchers, there comes a point at which it is healthy to encourage fresh governance, as opposed to maintaining the status quo solely for that purpose. I also do not believe in change for the sake of change, but by limiting terms, Benchers will be motivated to addressing the important issues at hand with some sense of immediacy, not feeling that today’s problems can be passed along to the next Convocation, years down the road. The Law Society needs to become more transparent, and more accountable to its licencees.
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My own experience (not that long ago, in the 1980’s) was of obtaining a law degree for less than $1,000.00 per year at McGill University’s Faculty of Law. Even allowing for inflation, looking at the cost today is beyond my comprehension. Legal education cannot be allowed to become the realm of the wealthy alone – unless there is some action taken, that is what will happen. Law students will feel pressure to pursue a large firm employment experience, solely to pay for their legal education debt, and I fear the slow demise of small firms, sole practitioners and those who practice law for the ideals and public interest, often without hope of significant remuneration.
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Artificial Intelligence in Legal Service Delivery

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I tend to favour a more traditional approach to licencing, involving an articling or mentorship experience where prospective licencees can gain real and practical experience. Self-study alone does not do that, and is not the path toward licensing if competence is a goal.
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I am a supporter of expanding the use of unbundled legal services as a means of increasing access to justice. The fact is that a large portion of the population simply cannot afford legal services, start to finish, and by allowing them to access specific aspects of legal support in an unbundled fashion, we are reducing the likelihood that people will suffer bad consequences as a result of lack of access to legal information or support.
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Reconciliation and Indigenous Communities

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I am opposed to the notion of alternative business structures.
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I am in favour of a more clearly defined notion of permissible advertising. The Law Society, in my view, has allowed advertising to get out of hand, and the proliferation of advertising has affected the public’s perception of the legal profession, not necessarily in a positive manner. Advertising needs to be fact-based, with fewer “claims” made in advertisements that cannot be supported by facts. The use of “awards” as an advertising technique also needs to be regulated, to avoid misleading claims being made.

Specific Enhancements to Licensing System

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I am a strong supporter of the LSO being in the CPD business, but it needs to be a provider of CPD at a cost that is accessible to all licencees, and it needs to be of a nature that actually enhances the competency of licencees.
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Diversity and Inclusivity Priorities

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Scope of practice for paralegals and non-licensees

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In my work as a deputy judge in Small Claims Court, I have had the opportunity to see paralegals at work in the court system. To be entirely frank, the quality of legal representation in the courts is less dependant on the title given to those performing services, and is more dependant on the general level of competence of an individual, often dictated by their experience, and the availability of mentorship and CPD. This is one area where the LSO needs to be actively involved – if the scope of paralegal practice is to be expanded, then the LSO needs to ensure that basic minimum educational requirements are met. The current exams involved in licencing, for both lawyers and paralegals alike, are not adequately screening this level of competency. As a general proposition, however, I am very supportive of seeing paralegals as equal partners (with different and important skills) in the overall provision of legal services to the public.

FOLA asks: Thoughts on Funding Staffed Local Law Libraries

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This is a must, not only for the legal profession (lawyers and paralegals equally), but for the public. Not every practitioner has access to enhanced online legal research tools (such as Lexis Advance), because of cost factors, and a local law library, with qualified staff available for licencees to use for assistance, helps bring quality legal information to those practitioners. For the public, access to CanLII and Google are helpful, but a law library provides a resource where questions can be answered by qualified individuals, helping to direct them to appropriate sources. With so many people being forced to represent themselves, it is imperative that we have local law libraries supported, to help bridge that gap in access to legal knowledge.

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