Ian Speers

Lawyer Candidate – Toronto Region

Priorities

I have practised for the past five years as a sole-practice solicitor, and directly appreciate the challenges, stresses, and isolation faced by practitioners in sole practice and small firms. Despite sole-and-small firms comprising the preponderance of the bar, this constituency is under-represented at Convocation, as are solicitors. I propose to provide an effective voice from these perspectives, to ensure that the regulator properly reflects and responds to the regulated.

If elected to Convocation, my priorities will focus on nuts-and-bolts aspects of professional governance, trying to move forward matters of a pragmatic nature that will help lawyers better serve the public. My experience in real estate would add depth to discussion on topical issues of competence, fraud, and professional responsibility in that area, and my background in legal education would contribute to the LSO’s mandate of furthering professional competence. If, as suggested by the current Treasurer, the LSO will be increasingly focusing on matters of ongoing quality assurance of lawyer competence, these skills, particularly from the perspective of a sole-practitioner and solicitor, will provide valuable insight to guide these developing policies. /p>

Background

I have practised as a solicitor since 2010, focusing on real estate law. Always a creature of smaller firms, I have been in sole practice in Toronto since 2014. I have been actively involved in the Ontario Bar Association, serving on the Real Property Executive for eight consecutive terms, including two as Chair (2016-2018). During my time as Chair, I worked closely with FOLA, LSUC/LSO and LawPRO in successfully opposing proposed governmental over-reach into the solicitor-client relationship during the implementation of the Non-Resident Speculation Tax.

I have devoted much time to the design and delivery legal education, having chaired and presented at numerous OBA and LSUC/LSO CPD programmes on real property topics, and been hands-on in CPD planning for much of my time on the OBA Real Property Executive. I have taught Land Transactions at Queen’s Law School for the past three years, and I now also teach a similar course at Osgoode Hall Law School. I have also informally mentored numerous colleagues.

I sit on the Board of the Toronto Lawyers Association, am a member of OBA Council, and in the past have volunteered extensively at the PBO Law Help clinics.

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

Candidates I support

Something the LSO does that it should stop doing

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.

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

Move quickly on matters of practical consequence to practising lawyers. An example I have had to contend with in my OBA work: almost since I started practice, LSUC/LSO has spoken off-and-on of updating its real estate mortgage discharge guidelines (last updated in 1992) to reflect the realities of modern funds transfers. To date, there remains no real progress.

website

https://ianforbencher.com/

email

ian@speers-law.com

social media

Twitter: @IanSpeers

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

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Access to justice takes many forms, and addresses many target constituencies. I have in the past volunteered extensively at PBO’s Law Help clinics, and am a supporter of the general model offered by these operations. As someone who practises in private law, my personal focus has centred (and as a Bencher would continue to have much focus) on design and delivery legal education, as I believe that an informed bar is essential to furthering the effective and efficient delivery of legal services (a key underpinning of access to justice).

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As a sole practitioner and solicitor, I wish to see LSO foster greater involvement in governance from these (and other) under-represented constituencies. I do not believe that a contraction of the number of elected Benchers would further this goal.
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LSO’s regulatory mandate gives it no direct jurisdiction over university tuition, but the current annual tuition has become ridiculous (and I can assure you that the token pay of adjunct faculty is not a contributing factor to tuition inflation). The prohibitive cost frankly acts as a barrier to entry for many who would make good lawyers, and the consequent debt loading creates alarming stresses for new lawyers.
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I support its fundamental intention as a call for a self-guided and personal meditation on one’s professional and legal responsibilities relating to equality, diversity and inclusion. I consider this self-directed exploration at its core to be a good learning exercise to help put EDI in perspective, and not an effort to compel orthodoxy of thought, opinion, or belief. That the messaging and dialogue surrounding this purpose has become garbled does not justify abandoning the exercise.

Artificial Intelligence in Legal Service Delivery

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AI’s incursions into legal services should be feared no more than the incursion of faxes and computers in the 1980s and 1990s. Rather, we need to embrace responsibly the benefits that can come from integrating predictive technology to allow lawyers to focus on the provision of more effective and efficient services to the public. AI needs to be seen as an additional tool. Any dramatic change of this sort forces the profession to reflect in Aristotelian terms on what is the essential and what is the accidental of their sphere of “legal practice.” This will result in a change of what is routine. But I believe the lawyer needs to fulfill a key role in this new model, and the LSO will need to adapt its oversight of the profession to reflect this reality, both in matters of professional competence and regulatory guidance.
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Until such time as law schools broadly amend their curricula to give graduates the skills to practise effectively upon graduation, I believe that the LSO acted appropriately in maintaining the status quo for pathways to licensing. I have been an assessor for the Ryerson LPP since its inauguration in 2014, and am generally impressed by the quality of training and candidates in that programme — I do believe that it offers an attractive model of combining practical skills and experiential learning, which should inform an ultimate successor to articling, if it can be upscaled in a cost-effective manner.
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I have provided limited-scope retainers to many clients, and see the unbundling of services as an important response to clients’ financial realities (or, indeed, what their actual needs might be in a given scenario). I see it as a valuable tool that should be fostered to make legal services more accessible. Some of such fostering may require the regulator giving greater guidance or increased resources to assist practitioners clarify the scope of their limited retainer, and/or ensure that the limited scope of retainer does not prejudice the client’s needs in such unbundled services.

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I am open minded on entity regulation. The fact that the “firms” themselves do not fall within direct LSO oversight is a definite gap in the current regulatory regime that ought to be addressed.
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Technological competence is of unquestionable relevance as technology (be it through AI or otherwise) becomes increasingly integral to the profession. With the omnipresence of electronic searching and registration, this shift has already become imperative within the real estate bar, and one is effectively unable to practice without it. I am not certain that there is (or will be) a one-size-fits-all approach that would encompass a universal professional “duty” given the many ways technology integrates into different areas of practice, so I would express reservations about proceeding with an eye to a universal regulatory solution (at least in the immediate future). But practitioners are prejudicing themselves (and potentially their clients) if they fail to keep up with technology. I believe LSO has an evolving role in supporting professional competence to this end.

Reconciliation and Indigenous Communities

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I have yet to see or envisage a scenario in which I would support them. Ultimately, I do not see the client being well served by yet another hand in their pockets.
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I see little need to tinker with the fundamentals of the status quo, which I see as ensuring public protection in a framework that allows lawyers to solicit business responsibly. I am of course always interested to hear from those in specific practice areas who may feel the implementation is perhaps in need of reassessment.

Specific Enhancements to Licensing System

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Yes — core to the LSO’s mandate is to ensure the competency of the profession, and provision of CPD is integral to maintaining skills. With that said, better coordination with other professional associations to avoid duplicated efforts, scheduling conflicts, and topical overlap could help strengthen the CPD opportunities across the province, and the ability of each CPD provider to serve its own constituencies effectively.
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The LSO can support licensees by fostering an environment in which licensees can serve the public effectively and efficiently. Addressing an aggregate of dozens of “small” things is key. Certainly, some obstacles to efficient practice rest outside of LSO’s jurisdiction – for example, reforming antiquated court procedures. But clear and up-to-date guidance on standards of practice, educational resources, streamlining regulation so as not to overburden sole and small firms, and containment of LSO fees are all within LSO’s control.
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While there are many contributing factors to mental health issues in the profession, the isolation of sole practice is not taken well by all participants, and initiatives to help address these issues would be my priority. I have seen at least two close colleagues who have had their licences revoked because of mental health issues spiraling out of control. I have seen others leave practice, purportedly voluntarily, when stressors became too much. We need to find better ways to address these issues.

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Continual review of funding is necessary to ensure that expenditures address the LSO’s core raison d’etre — regulation of the profession and protection of the public. But funding needs to relate to the core LSO mandate and not become ad hoc and unfocused.

Diversity and Inclusivity Priorities

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Scope of practice for paralegals and non-licensees

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The proposed expansion of the scope of paralegal and non-licensee practice addresses symptoms rather than an underlying systemic illness. It offers a tantalizing promise of quick delivery of lower-cost legal services to foster increased access to justice. But it does not seek to address underlying contributors to this deficit: the high cost of legal education (and resultant debt servicing), the cost of operating a practice, an over-saturated market of lawyers competing for diminishing business (which business would in turn be further diluted by increased competition), and court processes that are inefficient and archaic. Expanding the scope of paralegal and non-licensee practice as a first line of attack merely defers addressing systemic issues. I do not see it as a lasting solution, as key underlying problems remain unaddressed.

FOLA asks: Thoughts on Funding Staffed Local Law Libraries

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