Dear LSO: 40 things I hate about you

“Hate” is too strong a term, but but when I asked the #LSObencher candidates contributing to this site to identify “Something the LSO does now that it should stop doing,” many were fairly direct in their distaste for certain Law Society of Ontario activities.

In no particular order, here are the responses received.

  1. LSO should not continue to expend massive amounts of money, which is ultimately paid for by licensees, for work outside its core mandate. LSO’s 2019 budget calls for expenditures of over $142 million and 619 full-time employees. LSO should not continue to expand absent broad support from its membership.
  2. Being so adversarial. Lawyers should be able to look to the LSO as a resource. No lawyer should be worried about reaching out to better their practice or ask a question regarding their mental health while worrying that their license and livliehood could be at stake.
  3. Be too quick to spend money.
  4. Ignoring its members input, i.e. promoting ideas like Alternative Business Structures or paralegals dabbling in Family Law (rather than addressing any of the underlying issues).
  5. The Law Society should exercise greater caution as to manner in which it spends money.
  6. STOP PROMOTING THE VALUE OF LSO SPECIFICALLY AND START PROMOTING THE VALUE OF LAWYERS AND THE SERVICES WE PROVIDE: The LSO needs to consider the cost-benefit of running their current social media campaigns and whether it actually achieves the goal of promoting the value of lawyers to the public and the services that we provide. I believe there is a need to promote the value of legal services to the general public, however, I don’t think the “Our Society is Your Society” social media campaign achieves that goal.
  7. “We need greater transparency in respect of decision-making and more notice in respect of key decisions or reports.
  8. The LSO should curb its spending on advertising/promotion items.
  9. Require Statement of Principles
  10. The LSO should stop ring-fencing the profession with unnecessary barriers to entry and stick to ensuring minimum standards of competence for those seeking entry and continuation in the profession. The regulatory and financial barriers to the practice of law erected by the LSO are the primary threat to access to justice. In an increasingly global market, regulating law schools is outside the mandate if not impossible. The profession is failing the Articling system such that it has become a bottleneck to entry. NY state annual bar dues are $187, LSO are $2,487. The annual report has become a social policy undertaking. The LSO should not be compelling speech and enforcing ideological conformity with its Statement of Principles values test.
  11. The LSO needs to examine its spending and budgeting. Spending on advertising and marketing is not the best use of a regulators financial resources. Deficit budgeting over longer periods is also an issue. To keep fees down, the LSO has been using investment reserves to cover losses. As a rule, reserves should not be used to cover operating losses. Aside from eroding reserves, this practice also means that lawyers may not fully appreciate the true cost of the programs and services delivered by the LSO. In addition, projecting large increases in the number of lawyers paying fees and the revenue derived from students attempting to qualify in the future may not be appropriate. As the profession becomes more saturated, opportunities will diminish. That combined with the ever-increasing cost of tuition and qualifying will, at some point, impact the number of lawyers who seek to qualify.
  12. Useless transit ads.
  13. Expensive lunches
  14. I question the cost-benefits of some public awareness campaigns (e.g. “Our Society is Your Society.”) I fear this money would better serve the public if directed elsewhere.
  15. Re-inventing the wheels on which it rides, rather than looking forward to where it is headed. Issues such as EDI, articling/LPP, ABS have been debated and decided. Existing and emerging priorities must be the focus.
  16. The Law Society should stop spending time and money on attempted “rebranding.” Whose idea was it that the general public would be impressed by our having changed the Society’s name? For that matter, how did the benchers who approved the name change, fail to anticipate the anger that the change would engender among the Society’s members?
  17. Changing its name to the LSO.
  18. For the last decade, the LSO has debated the “articling question”. Having made a decision, the time has come to address competence in practice which has not had needed attention because of the long articling debate.
  19. Passing initiatives without adequate input from the public and profession.
  20. “Convocation has degenerated into a highly politicized group that panders to whatever interests will assure re-election. This makes for poor decision-making
  21. and must stop. It cannot and should not be all things to all people.”
  22. The LSO should not regulate in all areas of legal service simply because it can. Mission creep is something the LSO needs to acknowledge. In some, perhaps many areas of legal professional endeavour, it should merely insist on professional competence knowing that most lawyers want to (and are deeply motivated to) provide excellent legal service to their clients, directly, or through the professionals and other staff they supervise. Indeed, their livelihood depends on it. Incompetence can be dealt with through other processes and consequences. Having said that, it is important for the LSO to keep abreast of the changing nature of the practice of law including, in particular, the way it will be (and is being) shaped by current and emerging technologies. I see this as a different function, however, from regulating the use of emerging technologies particularly before their wide spread understanding or adoption.
  23. I will consider this question during my first year, if elected. J`y songerai pendant ma première année, si je suis élu.
  24. The current specialist designation has not worked properly and should be replaced by a credentialing system as outlined above.
  25. Holding so many Convocations. Instead of holding up to 10 half day meetings, the LSO should look to consolidating them down to 4 full day meetings. This will be a more effective use of time and will cut down on costs.
  26. 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.
  27. Public Advertising
  28. Charging lawyers outrageous amounts of money for CPD. We live in a society where information is free. We can watch business geniuses speak for free on YouTube, great lawyers discuss their strategies on podcasts for no cost, and so on. Yet, when it comes to CPD, the LSO continues to profiteer off lawyers who are struggling. Legal education should not be a means of profit; it should be a means for making us better lawyers. CPD should be on a cost-recovery basis and most of it should be free. Considering the mandatory nature of CPD, this is highly exploitative of lawyers who cannot afford this excess.
  29. The LSO annual report should stop asking troubling, unnecessary and invasive questions in a manner that is not only very unscientific but may create reasonable apprehension about future audits and quotas.
  30. Stop expanding its mandate and concentrate on the core issues that relate directly to the profession.
  31. LSO should update processes.
  32. The “Your Society” campaign, which as best I can tell is restricted to GTA in any event.
  33. The current “Our Society is Your Society” public awareness campaign could use a re-think.
  34. The 2018 Review Panel on Regulatory and Hearing Processes Affecting Indigenous Peoples found that the LSO struggles with its handling of complex disciplinary proceedings, specifically those that affect Indigenous people. The LSO needs to handle all disciplinary proceedings in a more efficient and timely manner. In considering the interests of the public and the licensees, disciplinary proceedings should not take significant periods to process.
  35. LSO should stop treating its members as rule breakers waiting to happen. LSO should HELP and SUPPORT its members to become better lawyers.
  36. The LSO has been narrowing the profession’s governance structures, and will be considering pushing out all but a few elected representives in the near future. It is doing this shortly before Convocation will be considering “compliance-based entity regulation”, which might cover everything from two-person partnerships to the Toronto offices of global megafirms. It has already excluded a number of life benchers and former Attorneys-General, who had served a vital role as the institutional memory of Convocation. A rush to create broad swaths of new regulation in the absence of broad representation and the voices that best represent our profession’s institutional memory would be exceptionally unwise.
  37. LSO needs to start acting within the Limits of its jurisdiction. It regularly exceeds its jurisdiction by engaging in a variety of expensive social activism projects
  38. More aggressive consultation with the profession before changes are implemented;
  39. The current marketing campaign is questionable.
  40. The LSO should move on from the Articling debate and focus on competence.

The #LSObencher election meets Bad Legal and Poe’s Law

Perhaps the best way to introduce Bad Legal LLP to the uninitiated is to reference Poe’s Law.

Poe’s law is an adage of Internet culture stating that, without a clear indicator of the author’s intent, it is impossible to create a parody of extreme views so obviously exaggerated that it cannot be mistaken by some readers for a sincere expression of the parodied views.

wikipedia

For several years now, @BadLegalLLP has offered some of the most devastatingly funny, and often most painfully incisive satirical commentary on different aspects of the legal profession. Always delivered in a matter-of-fact way that even at its most extreme, can trigger that uncomfortable pang of recognition among its core audience. (well, maybe not – at least I hope not – the frequent sex dungeon references).

A recent tweet sharing the full platform of Managing Partner Arthur P. Bad, Jr.’s Law Society of Ontario 2019 Bencher Election campaign is no exception:

Now, I’m no way suggesting that Arthur’s platform will find favour with voters or that other candidates who have contributed their profiles to this site will find in him common cause and a fellow traveler. However, I was sorely tempted to quietly slip this profile in among the candidates and the specific statements among the corresponding issues pages to put Poe’s Law to the test.

While you won’t find Arthur’s “13-point plan to Maintain the Status Quo” explicitly reflected in candidate profiles and position statements, Twitter debate during this election season has veered awfully close to a few of them and to the core strategic vision of the “Bad” platform: “There are no benchers in their first 10 years of call. Let’s keep it that way.”

Here’s a few examples that feel a little too close to reality for comfort, with the difference being more in the brazenness of the statement than the sentiment:

  • Reopen the LSO name debate
  • Raise fees to pay to for larger and more elaborate billboards
  • Make Articling Great Again
  • Rename paralegals as “pseudo-legals”
  • Oppose ABS because it detracts from the selflessness of our profession
  • Fewer Canadian wines in the Osgoode Hall Restaurant

I guess I’ll close by encouraging people to follow @BadLegalLLP on twitter, to examine the platforms of the actual candidates, and to be mindful that consdering the role of the the Law Society is to regulate the legal profession in the public interest (and not in the interests of lawyers), the Bad and Good platforms should be very different.

Financial realities of solo and small firm practice in Ontario

Michele Allinotte – https://yourcornwalllawyer.com/ 

[What follows is a twitter thread, reformatted and reprinted here with permission, posted by Ontario lawyer Michele Allinotte on February 24, 2019 – find the original thread here]

#BencherElection2019 candidates (and others) this is a thread on the financial realities of solo and small firm practice in Ontario.

I have been a lawyer since 2002. I have worked in two small law firms in North Bay and Cornwall and I have been a sole practitioner/manager of my small firm since 2009. 

I have never made six figures.

I am good at what I do. I enjoy the work. I have a good practice and I am fortunate to have lots of work. I pay my staff a decent wage. I enjoy working with my clients and now, with multiple generations of families. 

Yet, if I had it to do over, I would likely not choose this.

The Clio Legal Trends Report 2018 shows that of an average of 8 hours worked by lawyers, only 2.4 of those hours are on billable work. Ultimately only 1.65 of those hours is billed and collected.

I need to do the math, but my numbers are likely higher than those Clio Legal Trends numbers. I do know that the amount of time I spend on non-billable work equates to three to four month of my year.

This does not take into account that I cannot always work full time. I am a single mother and for a variety of reasons, I need to be away from the office (scheduled and unscheduled) for significant amounts of time. Thankfully, being self-employed affords me the flexibility to meet the needs of my family. I have worked in hospitals, schools, cars, on every single vacation, in arenas, when I am sick, when my children are sick, after someone has died, etc.

As a small firm and solo lawyer, there is limited back up and limited ability to take time off. I have managed it, but live in fear that I will break my leg or get into a car accident or become suddenly ill. Yes, I have disability insurance and I have a POA for my practice.

If a tragedy strikes me and I cannot work temporarily, my practice could be decimated. There may not be any coming back from an unplanned several month absence. Oh, and I have personally guaranteed any debt my practice has, so if my practice were to have a financial crisis, I would lose everything. 

The latest LSO statistics are based on the 2017 MARs, but at that time, just over 50% of lawyers in Ontario were in Toronto. The rest of us are outside of Toronto, and many of us are in smaller communities like mine. According to the same report, the highest type of employment for lawyers in Ontario are sole practitioners. The report doesn’t show those who are partners or associates in small firms. If someone has this data, please share. 

I have felt for my entire career a disconnect between my colleagues in larger firms in Toronto (and sometimes in larger cities like Ottawa or Hamilton as well). Your experience of the practice of law is not necessarily the same as mine. Financially, there is so much pressure. I know my numbers. I work efficiently. But the financial pressure is SO MUCH. At various times, I have gone months without taking a draw, put my own funds in the practice to cover expenses and do various financial juggling.

The monthly expenses to cover my practice are significant (to me). I look at expenses every month. There is not much to cut. Yet still, my wage is only slightly higher than my most senior non-lawyer staff member. My practice pays me a wage and no more. There is no “extra” money. So every single time more obligations are added to the practice, by the LSO, or by banks or by the province (NRST, I’m looking at you), that means more non-billable time my staff or I spend, and reduced profitability. 

Every added responsibility means either working more to make less or charging more, which impacts A2J. The right to be a lawyer is a privilege, and I do not mind fulfilling my obligations, when it is clear they help protect the public (#proSOP, FWIW). 

Many added responsibilities also mean added costs, and fees, insurance, etc are always increasing. For the privilege of simply being a lawyer, it costs about $8,000 per year – insurance, LSO fees and CPD. That is more than one month of my draw.

I also do pro bono. In all, it amounts to a few weeks to a month of my time. This is the pro bono that I choose to do, the time I spend with someone crying on the phone who I cannot represent, but I listen to them and send them to someone else or to the LSO Lawyer Referral Line. So to Bencher candidates, and anyone else involved in decisions that could impact me (hello to Chief Justice Wagner), please consider the actual financial realities of solo and small firm lawyers in any policy discussions and policy decisions. 

On the pro bono work, I forgot to mention that pro bono is often forced upon me when clients don’t pay. The nature of my practice areas means my A/R is small, but when someone doesn’t pay, it is literally money that comes out of my pocket. In the past, I have been on OBA Council and I have written, presented and chaired many conferences. I feel I have served the profession well. Except I cannot afford to do it any longer. I cannot afford to take more time away from my practice.

I have thoughts of being a Bencher some day, but it is likely not a financial reality. The cost of the mailing lists and advertising alone would be more than what I make in a year. I, and many of my colleagues in similar situations, would bring an important perspective to Convocation. Yet many of us could not even afford to run for Bencher. It is cost prohibitive. 

If I were starting law school now, I could not afford to attend. I finished my educational career just as tuition was being deregulated. The jump in tuition in my third year of law school was a financial hit, and I had to sell some assets to pay tuition. 

A2J isn’t only about what our clients can afford, it is also about what lawyers can afford. It is about who will be able to access a law school education. It is about who will be serving the public. I think that is all for today, but now that I have ripped off the bandage, I may come back to this thread. Good night.

(For clarity, I do formal pro bono beyond my time on the phone with potential clients daily. I also do a significant amount of public education (unpaid).)

Local law libraries matter – LIRN why

Nathan Baker – Lawyer Bencher Candidate – Central East

This election will be especially important to anyone reading this for one simple reason: the benchers elected will be approving the governance and funding of the Library Information Resource Network (LIRN), formerly LibraryCo, that funds your local library and the important work it does. Local law associations and their libraries provide so many useful things to the practicing bar and have had their funding virtually frozen while membership increases over the past number of years. Properly resourcing libraries ensures competence and lets us all do our jobs. It is an access to justice issue. If you don’t know why your local law library is so important then start here

Research

Many lawyers are only able to take on legal aid cases because they can turn to the resources in their local law library to help them in research and obtaining precedents. For lawyers starting out, or in solo or small practices, their local library offers them easy access to high quality research for the minimal price of membership. The local law librarians are absolutely key to this for obvious reasons.

Mentorship

Local law associations give people the ability to meet and engage other members of the bar who face similar issues to them. The unique issues in particular geographic regions are best reflected by the local bar. The mentorship opportunities offered by local associations link people by practice area so that they can learn to better their skills in a face to face environment.

Networking including articling

Finding an articling position or opening and building a practice can be hard. However, this can be made easier by meeting and understanding the local dynamic. Law librarians are often the first point of contact in making life easier in this difficult time of practice. 

CPD

Watching a program via webcast may be convenient. Attending a live event may be great direct experience. But the best place to learn is often amongst friends and colleagues on a local level.  Local law libraries provide low-cost content to practitioners without the need to travel to get it. 

Member Benefits

Most law associations now offer member benefits, from inexpensive travel to discounts on business services. Library staff help do this to make it even more valuable to join your local association and to come together as a profession.

Staffed local law libraries are important resources to the practicing bar. The Law Society needs to utilize these already existing resources to make the practice of law easier for the lawyers. Highlighting this valuable benefit will allow the LSO to achieve many of its goals at little cost. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel and running its own programs, working more closely with existing organizations such as local law associations and other professional groups like the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, Advocates’ Society and others can accomplish things more easily.


Editor’s note: candidate positions on the matter of funding staffed local law libraries 

2019 LSO Bencher election – candidate questionnaire

The 2015 lawyer Bencher election had the lowest recorded turnout in 30 years, with fewer than 34% of eligible licensees casting a ballot. 40 lawyers were elected, and only 1 candidate of 98 received a plurality of votes that exceeded the turnout level. Put another way – these elections are won by candidates selected by a small fraction of the actual voters, who themselves represent a small fraction of the electorate.

The cost of reaching all eligible voters is high, as is the challenge for new voices to break through and catch the attention of potential voters.  

I’m hoping to make it easier for voters to learn about candidates and for candidate messages to reach interested voters, and so I’ve developed this website to help address these challenges. The site launched in the first week of January and I invite all lawyer and paralegal candidates registered to run in the April 2019 collection to answer as many or as few of these survey questions as they care to share. If you as a candidate choose to participate, there is a minimum amount of information I require.

Candidates will be welcome to modify and supplement their content at anytime. For example, if there is an issue on which they have not yet developed a position, they are free to leave it blank and resubmit an updated form at a later time. Similarly, if they’d like to add to their thoughts as they review the positions of other candidates, they may do so. Updates will be published at least weekly, but probably more often than that.

All materials supplied will be captured on individualized candidate pages, complete with personalized URLs, and the comments on the Issues are posted to  unique pages for that Issue along with comments from all the other candidates.

Any questions? Hit me up on the contact form.

Thank you.

Colin Lachance