Claire Wilkinson

Lawyer Candidate – Central West Region

Priorities

Ontario faces huge challenges with access to justice. Litigants are waiting unreasonable periods of time to have their cases heard, and lawyers are frustrated not to be able to provide timely service for their clients. The lack of judicial resources and the volume of litigation being managed by our judges is stretching our system to the point where litigation wait times have become dysfunctional in certain regions. We need to find innovative ways to deliver legal services, dispute resolution mechanisms, and ultimately adjudication of matters in dispute that cost less and are more efficient. But delays in getting cases in to court is not the only problem. Law school educations have become extremely expensive, resulting in many students going overseas to pursue their legal education to obtain degrees in shorter periods of time. A surplus of students has led to shortages in articling positions, and despite programs like Ryerson’s Law Practice Program, many students are still struggling to find positions. The LSO needs to think creatively about how to address this issue, including possibly shortening the time frame for a traditional legal education, while still providing students with supplemental practical training that will adequately prepare them for practice.

As President of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, I had the opportunity to work on the contingency fee file with LSO and the Ministry of the Attorney General, resulting in changes to the Solicitors Act that have not yet been proclaimed into law as the Regulations still need to be finalized. The legislative changes were made with the previous government, and I will make it a priority to ensure that the rest of the Regulations are drafted, and that the entire set of regulatory amendments are formally enacted. Clients need to able to read simple and straight forward standardized contingency fee agreements that are transparent and easy to understand. This is another very important access to justice issue.

I also want to ensure that the LSO advertising complaint system is working effectively and efficiently. I have heard reports from several members that the LSO is taking a protracted period of time to investigate and respond to complaints. Lawyers need to know that when they take the time to register a complaint that LSO is making the investigation of those complaints a priority.

 

Background

I am a personal injury lawyer with particular expertise in sexual abuse litigation. I have been practicing at a small firm in Burlington, Ontario, Martin & Hillyer Associates, since my call to the bar in 1995. I am the immediate Past President of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association, and served on its board 13 years prior to my Presidency. I am also a Past President of the Halton County Law Association, having served on its board for a total of 17 years. I am acutely aware of the challenges facing smaller law associations, and solo and small firm practitioners. In the summer and fall of 2018 I was pleased to participate in the Superior Court “one judge model” consultation group chaired by Chief Justice Strathy. I have been on the Board of Directors for Mind Forward Brain Injury Services since 2013, and have been a longstanding member of the Halton Bench and Bar Committee. In addition to these other substantial commitments, I have been an Ontario Governor on the Board of the American Association for Justice since 2013. I have a lot of experience in policy development and problem solving, and I am ready to work!

 

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

Something the LSO does that it should stop doing

The Law Society should exercise greater caution as to manner in which it spends money.

 

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

The Law Society needs to focus more on member services. With improved services, lawyers will obtain more assistance and support, which will in turn improve their overall ability to represent clients and provide appropriate and competent advice.

 

website

www.clairewilkinson.ca

 

email

claire.wilkinson@mhalaw.ca

 

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

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Access to justice is a critically important issue in Ontario. Ontario just launched the one judge model as a pilot project, and I was pleased to be on Chief Justice Strathy’s committee that considered bringing this pilot project to Ontario. The goal is to reduce the time it takes to get a case to trial by removing the vast majority of interlocutory motions. Support for Pro Bono Law Ontario should continue, along with support for enhanced services through Legal Aid.

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The current complement of benchers is required to properly service the almost 50 000 lawyers in the province, in a manner which ensures diversity in terms of geographic location, type of practice, and size of firm. It is important that the LSO maintain the variety of perspectives required to properly consider the needs of its members. The LSO can also ensure greater diversity on its committees by inviting non benchers along with benchers to perform committee work, with a focus on ensuring that the perspective of solo and small firms is included and represented on all committees.
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It has become extremely expensive to go to law school in Ontario. Many students are now opting to attend law schools overseas, where the requirement to obtain a law degree is two years, instead of the three years required in Ontario. This situation creates even more competition for jobs in Ontario when those internationally educated students return to Ontario to work. While the Law Society does not directly regulate law schools, it can ask questions that go to the heart of the expense of legal education in Ontario, such as why we accept international students who have only studied law for two years, but demand that Ontario students attend law school for three years? The answers to these questions should force further analysis by Ontario universities of the price and accessibility of an Ontario law school education.
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I support creating and abiding by a statement of principles. This is not a matter of “thought police”. This is a situation where certain standards need to be ingrained into the way lawyers think and act. It was not so long ago that it was predominantly men in Ontario’s law schools. Through a commitment on the part of Ontario’s law schools to seek to enrich its enrollment by ensuring that women were part of its student body, Ontario dramatically increased the number of female lawyers in the profession. The same principles apply to the Law Society’s efforts to ensure that its members conduct themselves in a manner that promotes equality, diversity and inclusivity. These are important principles that also need to be ingrained into the way we think and act. It is the lawyers in our society who are tasked with ensuring the rule of law is maintained and applied to ensure a free and democratic society. Freedom, fairness and equality are values that must be treasured and honoured. We need not apologize for reminding our lawyers of these important values.

Artificial Intelligence in Legal Service Delivery

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Technology continues to move forward, and lawyers will have opportunities to improve the efficiency of their practices through technology. The key will be in regulating the use of technology to ensure that clients are still receiving adequate and thorough advice from competent lawyers.
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It is essential for graduates to receive practical training. The theory taught in law school does not always translate well to the reality of the practice of law and all of the other variables, including time pressures and the value of personal relationships. We are challenged by the Ontario market being flooded with law school graduates from not only Ontario, but from international law schools as well. The LPP is a very good model, but more opportunities need to be available. The LSO should consider financial incentives for solo practices and small firms to take on articling students.
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This is an important area of access to justice. But the LSO also needs to ensure that lawyers’ retainers are properly delineating the scope of legal services being provided to ensure that client’s expectations are being met, and that lawyers are not being exposed to greater liability.

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Individual lawyers are accountable to the Law Society for their actions, but the Law Society does not provide direct oversight to firms. The regulation of firms as entities is a positive development to help ensure better legal practice and the protection of the public.
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Lawyers should strive to keep up to date with technology. If they don’t develop at minimum basic electronic communication and internet use skills, they will be left behind. But I do not agree that the LSO should be requiring lawyers to develop technological skills. If desired, lawyers can function competently in an environment filled with paper, though there is no doubt that a lawyer ensconced in paper will not be as productive or efficient as the lawyer who takes advantage of technology. There may come a day when lawyers will have no choice but to engage in email communication and other technological advances. But that day has not yet arrived. We should accept that there are still many lawyers in Ontario who have given great service to our profession, who are not yet willing to embrace technology. They have the right to make that choice.

Reconciliation and Indigenous Communities

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The LSO has an obligation to support reconciliation, including supporting access to justice initiatives, and encouraging increased enrollment in law schools for indigenous populations.

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I do not support alternative business structures (ABS) or non lawyer ownership being introduced into private practice. In the personal injury field, non lawyer ownership creates a far greater risk that cases will be settled prematurely to satisfy the financial demands of non lawyer owners, with a resulting failure to put the needs of the client first. I do support Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) which provide legal services to vulnerable populations on a not for profit basis.
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As a personal injury lawyer, I am frustrated and disgusted by some of the advertising and techniques I see being used by some lawyers and firms to market their practices, including fake law firm websites, misleading language, misleading statements regarding firm size and location, misuse of awards and rankings in advertising, and the tasteless targeting of vulnerable people. The LSO needs to do more to enforce existing restrictions, proactively investigate, and respond quickly and decisively when complaints are received.

Specific Enhancements to Licensing System

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Practical training for graduates is essential, particularly if there is consideration of reducing the length of a traditional law school education. The Ryerson Law Practice Program has been receiving solid feedback, but it cannot accommodate all the students who need practical training. Financial incentives should be available to small firms and solo practitioners to hire students to help provide them with valuable real world experience.

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I support the LSO providing CPD programs. In this manner the LSO can ensure that appropriate CPD programming is available to members. As well, LSO program pricing is generally more reasonable than some programs offered by other legal groups, and whatever revenue is generated will be used for the benefit of members.
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The LSO needs to develop a more useful system when licensees need advice. As a younger lawyer, when I called the Law Society for help with a challenging situation, I was given such watered down advice that it didn’t practically assist me with the challenge I was facing. Despite the existence of the Practice Management Helpline and the Coach and Advisor Network, I have recently received feedback from other lawyers that the LSO is still not providing enough practical advice to practitioners who are facing challenging and unique situations. Surveys should be sent to licensees to determine how effective these services are, and what further steps could be taken to provide more concrete advice to licensees who need help.
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The LSO needs to continue efforts to educate members about identifying mental health issues, and in providing services through the Members Assistance Program. Law Society Tribunals need to expand their focus on assisting lawyers suffering from mental health issues as well as ensuring that the public is protected.

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The LSO has a mandate to ensure that its members are competent and capable of serving the public. To help achieve this goal, the Law Society needs to ensure that local law libraries are sufficiently funded. As well, the LSO should consider incentive programs to solos and small firms to take on articling students to help address the shortage of articling opportunities for graduates.

Diversity and Inclusivity Priorities

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The LSO needs to address barriers to entry into the profession that are disproportionately affecting racialized licensees, including implementing the Report of the Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees Working Group.

Scope of practice for paralegals and non-licensees

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I do not support the expansion of independent paralegal practice into family law. However, I do support family lawyers who wish to contract with, or employ paralegals to work in this area under their supervision. Some family lawyers in Ontario are already working with paralegals effectively in a manner that brings legal representation to people who would otherwise be unrepresented.

FOLA asks: Thoughts on Funding Staffed Local Law Libraries

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Funding local law libraries must continue and be a priority for the LSO. Law libraries are the lifeblood for many county law associations, and are a primary source of support, both administrative and social, for many solo and small firm practitioners.

Other topics

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Endorsements of this Candidate

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• The Ontario Trial Lawyers Association
• Malcolm Mercer, Treasurer of the Law Society
• Eugene Meehan (Past President, Canadian Bar association)
• Pascale Daigneault (Past President, Ontario Bar Association)
• Ed Upenieks (Past President, Ontario Bar Association)
• Sonia Bjorkquist (Immediate Past President, The Advocates Society)
• Mike Winward (Chair of the Federation of Ontario Law Associations)
• Sam Misheal (President, Halton County Law Association)
• Ron Bohm (President, Ontario Trial Lawyers Association)
• Ken Kelertas (President Elect, Halton County Law Association)
• Rachael Pulis (Immediate Past President, Halton County Law Association)
• Frances Wood (Past President, Peel Law Association)
• Allen Wynperle (President Elect, OTLA, Past Pres. Hamilton Law Association)
• Ross Earnshaw (Bencher and Pres. of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada)
• David Howell (Bencher Central South)
• Barbara Murchie (Bencher Toronto)
• Andrew Spurgeon (Bencher for Central South and Past Pres. Hamilton Law Association)
• Michael Eizenga (Past Pres., of the Advocates Society)
• Roger Oatley (Past Pres., The Advocates Society)
• Philippa Samworth (Past Pres., The Advocates Society)
• Susan Gunter (Past Pres., Canadian Defence Lawyers)
• Fiona Sampson (LSO 2019 Human Rights Award Recipient, CEO of The Equality Effect)
• Lauren Sasaki (Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks)
• Sean Kearney (Legal Director, Crown Law Office)
• Robert Hooper (Immediate Past President Hamilton Law Association)
• Mike Del Gobbo (Criminal Lawyers Association Board of Directors)
• Patrick Brown (Past Pres. Ontario Trial Lawyers Association)
• Maia Bent (Past Pres. Ontario Trial Lawyers Association)
• Tom Connolly (Past Pres. Ontario Trial Lawyers Association)
• Charles Gluckstein (Past Pres. Ontario Trial Lawyers Association)
• Paul Harte (Past Pres. Ontario Trial Lawyers Association)
• Bruce Hillyer (Past Pres. Ontario Trial Lawyers Association)
• Judith Hull (Past Pres. Ontario Trial Lawyers Association)
• John McLeish (Past Pres. Ontario Trial Lawyers Association)
• Greg Monforton (Past Pres. Ontario Trial Lawyers Association)
• Bob Munroe (Past Pres. Ontario Trial Lawyers Association)
• Andrew Murray (Past Pres. Ontario Trial Lawyers Association)
• Dermot Nolan (Past Pres. OTLA and the Hamilton Law Association)
• Dale Orlando (Past Pres. Ontario Trial Lawyers Association)
• Steve Rastin (Past Pres. Ontario Trial Lawyers Association)
• Jim Scarfone (Past Pres. OTLA and the Hamilton Law Association)
• Jim Vigmond (Past Pres. Ontario Trial Lawyers Association)
• Adam Wagman (Past Pres. Ontario Trial Lawyers Association)
• Gary Will (Past Pres. Ontario Trial Lawyers Association)
• Laura Hillyer (VP of Ontario Trial Lawyers Association)
• Janis Criger (Central South Bencher)
• Daniela Pacheco (recipient of OTLA Women’s Caucus Award)
• Laurie Tucker (recipient of OTLA Women’s Caucus Award)