Isfahan Merali

Lawyer Bencher Candidate – Toronto Region

Priorities

Our profession faces significant and complex challenges: access to justice, articling and licensing, mental health, entity-based regulation, new technologies and AI, amongst many others. The difficulties faced by sole practitioners, new calls, lawyers practising in small towns, and equity-seeking lawyers are particularly notable. The LSO will need to act thoughtfully to positively represent the public interest. I have worked directly on these challenges and understand their interconnectedness. The profession requires Benchers who are dedicated to public service and to finding creative and effective ways to address these challenges, including greater supports in the profession and advancing mentoring and coaching initiatives. It is critical for our profession to include informed, progressive and diverse ideas on how to face the challenges ahead, and I remain committed to continuing this difficult but important work.

Background

Membership & Service

Bencher, Toronto Region, The Law Society of Ontario: Chair, Tribunal Committee; Vice-Chair, Equity & Aboriginal Issues Committee; Member, Priority and Planning Committee; Member, Implementation Task Force on Mental Health; Member, LL.D. & Awards Committee, Member, Indigenous Review Panel
Tribunal Member, Hearing & Appeal Division, Law Society Tribunal
Trustee, Law Foundation of Ontario
South Asian Bar Association of Toronto, Member & Mentor
Canadian Black Lawyers Association (CABL) Speed Mentoring Event, May 2017
Volunteer Mock Trial Judge, Ontario Law Day Mock Trial, OBA/OJEN Mock Trial Programme for High School Students, April 2017
​Volunteer Mock Trial Appeal Judge, Julius Alexander Isaac Diversity Moot, Black Law Students’ Association of Canada, February 2017
Panel Judge, Precedent Setter Award, 2016
Equity Advisory Group, Member, The Law Society of Upper Canada, 2009-2015
Osgoode Public Interest Program & The Advocate’s Society, Mental Health Law Program, Former Mentor
Association of Law Officers of the Crown (ALOC), Member and Former Member of Bargaining Team (2007-2009) &
ALOC Branch Representative (2006 to present)
Ministry of the Attorney General, Diversity Committee, Former Member
Ministry of the Attorney General, Mentoring Committee, Former Member
Society of Ontario Adjudicators and Regulators (SOAR), Member
Ontario Bar Association, Member (Administrative, Constitutional & Human Rights, Criminal, Family and Elder Law Section Member)
The Advocates Society, Member
Women’s Law Association of Ontario, Member
Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers, Associate Member
Ronald MacDonald House, Sick Children’s Hospital, Former Volunteer
International Human Rights Programme/Women’s Human Rights Website (WHRR), Faculty of Law, Univ. of Toronto, Former Volunteer
Pro Bono Students Canada, Former Project Supervisor & Mentor
St. Albans Boy’s & Girls Club, Former Volunteer
Law in Action within Schools (LAWS), Former Volunteer
Action Canada for Population and Development, Former Board Director
Human Rights Internet, Former Board Director
Horizon Alternative Senior School, Former Co-Chair, School Advisory Council, 2010-2015

Practice Experience 

Tribunal Counsel, Consent & Capacity Board, 2012-Present
Counsel & Deputy Registrar, Ontario Judicial Council & Justice of the Peace Review Council, (Office of the Chief Justice, Ontario Court of Justice), 2016-2017
Counsel, Ontario Human Rights Commission, 1997-2012
Equity Officer (Senior Position), University of Toronto, 2009-2010
Acting Director, International Human Rights Program, University of Toronto, 1999-2000

Education

Certificate in Elder Law, Osgoode Hall Law Society, 2018
Certificate in Adjudication, Law Society Tribunal & Society of Ontario Adjudicators and Regulators, 2015
Effective Decisions Writing Certificate, Society of Adjudicators and Regulators, 2009.
Adjudicator Training Certificate, Society of Adjudicators and Regulators, 2009
Advanced Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Certification, University of Windsor, 2009
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Certification, University of Windsor, 2006
Human Rights Fellow, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, 1999-2000
International Human Rights Certification, Canadian Human Rights Foundation, 1997
Call to the Bar, The Law Society of Upper Canada, 1997
Bachelor of Laws, University of Toronto, 1995
Diploma in Spanish Language Studies, Honours Distinction, Official School of Languages, Barcelona, Spain, 1993
Advanced Diploma in French Studies, Université de Pau, Academie de Bordeaux, France, 1993
Bachelor of Arts with Distinction (Double Major in Canadian Studies & History, Minor in East Asian Studies), University College, 1990

Honours & Awards

Community Leader, Federation of Asian Canadian Leaders (FACL) Community Leaders Showcase, 2017
​Recipient of Legal Award for Excellence & Leadership, South Asian Bar Association, 2015
Recipient of Trinity-Spadina Community Service Award, 2013

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

Candidates I support

Jayashree Goswami (www.jayashreegoswami.com)
Gina Papageorgiou
Rebecca Durcan
Orlando Da Silva

I have endorsed a number of candidates, however I am especially supporting the following candidates:

Jayashree Goswami (my running mate)
Orlando Da Silva
Gina Papageourgiou
Rebecca Durcan
Howard Goldblatt

Something the LSO does that it should stop doing

I think that the current status quo on licensing needs to be revisited, and we need to find collaborative solutions to promote fair and equitable ways to get licensed. I have spoken out on this issue and my detailed thoughts are included on the licensing question.

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

I believe that the underrepresentation of Indigenous lawyers is an issue that impacts the public interest, access to justice and equity in the profession. I believe the LSO can do more to support this important issue, including providing greater supports to Indigenous lawyers to encourage more Indigenous lawyers to enter and remain in the profession. I would also like to see the creation of a Specialist Certification in Indigenous Law or other initiatives to promote culturally competent services for Indigenous persons and communities.

website

www.isfahanmerali.com

email

contact@isfahanmerali.com

social media

Isfahan Merali (LinkedIN)
https://twitter.com/isfahanMerali

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

Expand to read Isfahan's views
My first priority would be to address the need to clarify the LSO’s role to facilitate Access to Justice, which is a pressing issue in the public interest. While the core function and duty of the LSO is the regulation and governance of the profession, it must do so in consideration of other goals such as facilitating access to justice, and advancing the cause of justice as stated in the Law Society Act:

Principles to be applied by the Society
4.2 In carrying out its functions, duties and powers under this Act, the Society shall have regard to the following principles:
1. The Society has a duty to maintain and advance the cause of justice and the rule of law.
2. The Society has a duty to act so as to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario.
3. The Society has a duty to protect the public interest.
4. The Society has a duty to act in a timely, open and efficient manner.
5. Standards of learning, professional competence and professional conduct for licensees and restrictions on who may provide particular legal services should be proportionate to the significance of the regulatory objectives sought to be realized. 2006, c. 21, Sched. C, s. 7.

I think that there are a number of things that the LSO can do to facilitate enhanced access to justice. These include (not an exhaustive list of course):

• Positioning and supporting TAG (the Access to Justice Group) to be a access to justice hub for organizations across Ontario to connect, share ideas and research, model best practices and further dialogue across justice stakeholders.
• Collaborating with the Law Foundation of Ontario (LFO) on access to justice initiatives.
• Taking a strong leading role on discussions relating to legal aid and pro bono initiatives and needs.
• Working with the Law Federation of Canada on facilitating broad based initiatives to improve A2J, particularly for vulnerable and marginalized communities, and to also advance work on reconciliation with Indigenous communities.
• Canvassing whether licensees wish to support A2J projects directly through their licensing fees.
• Facilitating continued strong knowledge and strategies to address new technologies in the legal context at the LSO and at the Federation of Law Societies. As noted earlier, this is important because the emergence of crypto currencies has the potential of significantly impacting the source of funds for the Law Foundation of Ontario (which provides critical support to access to justice funding).
• I am open to exploring and discussing other ideas as Access to Justice is an issue that is deeply important to me (which is why I have sat as a Trustee on the Law Foundation of Ontario for the past 2 years).

Expand to read Isfahan's views
I am in favour of governance reform that promotes efficient decision making, good governance as well as promotes equity and diversity. I voted in favour of governance reforms at the LSO.
Expand to read Isfahan's views
The cost of legal education, since law school tuition was deregulated, is a serious barrier to entry in the profession, and I believe negatively impacts access to justice and diversity and equity in the profession. I would like to push for the LSO to have discussions at the Federation of Law Societies (which approves law school curriculums on several issues and with law schools on the following:

-barriers caused by high tuition fees (which is now further informed by the report coordinated by Heather Donkers);
– collaborative discussions on other equity barriers to law school including entry qualifications or admission reviews (in particular for Black and Indigenous students);
– integrated experiential education in 3L (similar to the Lakehead program where students do not have to article) to further explore other licensing options that will remove current barriers and 2 tier system which imposes further bias against primarily racialized students;
– access to quality equity and mental health services;
– promotion of the MAP (Member Assistance Program) and DHC (Discrimination and Harassment Counsel) program which many students do not know is available to them.

Expand to read Isfahan's views
I support the Statement of Principles. I was a member of the Working Group on Racialized Licensees and support the SOP. I voted for it, and voted against the motion to roll it back in Convocation. The SOP forms part of a package of 13 interconnected recommendations that are a beginning towards a necessary culture shift in the legal profession. The SOP is comprised of a lawyer’s duties in the Rules of Professional Conduct and obligations under the Human Rights Code. The issue has been voted on, and a very large number of lawyers of reported they have complied with the obligation. The issue is now before the courts, and we must turn to the big issues that face us in the years ahead at the LSO.

Artificial Intelligence in Legal Service Delivery

Expand to read Isfahan's views
Expand to read Isfahan's views
With respect to licensing, I have strongly voiced my concerns about the status quo. I have spoken out in Convocation in favour of an alternative arrangement, which would require the LSO to collaborate with law schools (and use its influence at the Federation of Law Societies to do so). I have advocated for this alternative arrangement as I do not believe that the status quo is acceptable. Forcing students to go through a system where there is rampant abuse and harassment in order to be licensed, or facing the perception that their program is 2nd tier is unacceptable (even though I do believe the LPP program is of very high quality and provides excellent training). If the costs could be brought down significantly, however, I would perhaps also be in favour of an LPP program only but I do not think it is equitable to impose a further cost of about $25,000 on each student (which was the cost quoted during the licensing debate).

My comments during Convocation during the Licensing Debate on Dec 10, 2018 can be found starting at page 68 of the transcript: http://lx07.lsuc.on.ca/R/9V4BVJDYF7ELBQLRPBMMNISAQNLIVE949CUXTDM69EXSLIY6I3-01081?func=results-jump-full&set_entry=000006&set_number=000052&base=GEN01

Expand to read Isfahan's views
Unbundled services have the potential to assist with current Access to Justice issues in the legal system. Studies have shown that offering this type of service may greatly assist those who are trying to navigate the complex legal system on their own (and I have seen, through my work as a Trustee of the Law Foundation of Ontario, how legal organizations that offer this service can greatly impact A2J). The LSO, as a regulator, has a role in supporting and assisting lawyers who might offer such services to ensure that client’s expectations and understanding of unbundled services are clear, and that needs are appropriately met. There is some excellent work being done on this issue, and I have been monitoring research and initiatives on this issue, as A2J is a particular concern of mine. Benchers need to be informed and ready to address this issue as creative solutions to the A2J crises are needed.
Expand to read Isfahan's views
This is a critical issue that will be one of the most complex issues ahead. I believe it is also necessary for the LSO to review this, in an informed manner, in light of the need to address broad issues such as equity and diversity as well as emerging and current legal technologies and AI.
Expand to read Isfahan's views

Reconciliation and Indigenous Communities

Expand to read Isfahan's views
I am unequivocally committed to reconciliation with Indigenous communities. I was honoured to be one of the few Benchers to sit on the Indigenous Review Panel that worked on ground-breaking recommendations to improve the LSO’s regulatory and hearing processes to be more inclusive and accessible to Indigenous communities. This is a key priority for me in my current role as Vice-Chair of the Equity and Indigenous Issues Committee.
Expand to read Isfahan's views
The Law Society has an obligation to carefully and thoughtfully consider all ideas that may promote access to legal services and justice, and address gaps in the provision of legal services. Having said this, I believe that we must act carefully and thoughtfully on the idea of non-lawyer ownership structures. There are real and serious concerns about ABS: how will it impact the reputation of our profession; how would conflicts of interest be avoided; how can lawyers still meet their professional obligations of our profession; how will it impact on the independence of the bar; how will our duties to our clients be affected; how will the solicitor-client relationship be affected by external interests; will ABS genuinely protect the public interest and promote broad access to justice (for vulnerable communities in particular) and ensure quality and ethical legal services? None of these questions are clear. We must proceed with great care.

At this point, I am not persuaded that typical non-lawyer ownership would benefit increased access to justice to those who most need it, nor that it comes without significant concerns relating to the administration of justice and our professional responsibilities in providing legal services. However, I believe that the Law Society must carefully review the issues and questions above, as they have an obligation to the profession and the public to do so.

Expand to read Isfahan's views

Specific Enhancements to Licensing System

Expand to read Isfahan's views
As noted with respect to pathways to licensing, I have strongly voiced my concerns about the status quo. I have spoken out in Convocation in favour of an alternative arrangement, which would require the LSO to collaborate with law schools (and use its influence at the Federation of Law Societies to do so). I have advocated for this alternative arrangement as I do not believe that the status quo is acceptable. Forcing students to go through a system where there is rampant abuse and harassment in order to be licensed, or facing the perception that their program is 2nd tier is unacceptable (even though I do believe the LPP program is of very high quality and provides excellent training). If the costs could be brought down significantly, however, I would perhaps also be in favour of an LPP program only (with additional oversight by the LSO) but I do not think it is equitable to impose a further cost of about $25,000 on each student (which was the cost quoted during the licensing debate).
I have spoken out in Convocation, during the Licensing Debate on Dec 10, 2018, on needed enhancements and alternatives to the current licensing system. My comments can be found starting at page 68 of the transcript: http://lx07.lsuc.on.ca/R/9V4BVJDYF7ELBQLRPBMMNISAQNLIVE949CUXTDM69EXSLIY6I3-01081?func=results-jump full&set_entry=000006&set_number=000052&base=GEN01
Expand to read Isfahan's views
I don’t have a problem with the LSO providing high quality CPD where appropriate. Currently, LSO CPD programs are to be charged on a cost recovery basis. I believe that should be reviewed to ensure this is the case and understand that CPR Program review may come up for review in the next Bencher term. In this term, I have advocated strongly for a wide range of free EDI and professionalism CPD as well, and for ensuring that a wide range of education, learning and mentoring (i.e. teaching, equity seeking organization work, etc.) be considered to qualify for substantive CPD credits. In my capacity as Vice-Chair of EAIC I have also advocated to ensure we are providing easy to find information on free and accessible (and high quality) EDI programming.

In addition, I believe it is critical to support meaningful professional development that enhances all lawyers’ skills and knowledge. However, professional development should reflect the diverse needs and challenges of lawyers across the province. Moreover, I believe that the Law Society must assist lawyers across Ontario – working in different practice areas and in different types of practice – in meeting their CPD requirements, as well as offer alternatives to expensive education programmes to meet these requirements.

Expand to read Isfahan's views
The regulation of lawyers in Ontario must reflect the needs of all lawyers across the province. I have practiced in the public interest for many years. My daily interactions with counsel from small and mid-sized firms, rural and small towns, working on legal aid certificates or in legal clinics, in public service, new lawyers, foreign trained lawyers and racialized and indigenous lawyers have underscored that the practice of law is becoming increasingly complex and stressful. In my role as a mentor to new lawyers from diverse communities I have gained a broader understanding of their concerns and needs for greater inclusion and support.

The Law Society’s core duties includes the protection of the public interest and advancement of the cause of justice– this needs to include proactive measures to address the increasingly complex and stressful practice of law. Professional regulation must include initiatives to address and meet the diverse needs of our colleagues – particularly given the increased challenges facing lawyers in rural and small towns, sole practitioners, new lawyers and those living with disabilities and mental health issues. The Law Society can do more to support and promote improved mentoring for lawyers and explore other initiatives that may help address the root of the problems (unlike costly and stressful formal discipline proceedings). I intend to work hard to ensure that The Law Society’s initiatives on professional regulation, including access to continuing professional development and programmes that promote inclusion, are inclusive and reflect the needs of all lawyers in Ontario.

Expand to read Isfahan's views
In 2015, I ran on a platform with Janet Leiper to promote equity, inclusion and diversity. I have always included mental health initiatives in my promotion of EDI, because I believe it is the obligation of an inclusive and progressive regulator. I have practiced in the area of human rights and mental health throughout my career and this issue has been a priority area for me in my practice, and in my work as a Bencher throughout my first term. I have sat on every Mental Health Task Force and Working Group, actively worked to get progressive and inclusive recommendations passed to address mental health and addictions issues passed in Convocation (which I voted for). I currently sit on the Mental Health Working Group that is focused on extending this work to proactive initiatives to promote mental health and well-being in the legal professions.
Expand to read Isfahan's views

Diversity and Inclusivity Priorities

Expand to read Isfahan's views
Since 2015, I have worked on supporting equity initiatives as a Bencher and as a Trustee of the Law Foundation of Ontario (which funds A2J initiatives across Canada). As a Bencher, I have advocated for progressive changes for equity and inclusion at the LSO. This includes my work on Challenges Facing Racialized Licensees, my leadership as Vice- Chair of the Equity and Indigenous Affairs Committee (and Chair of the Steering Committee on the Inclusion Index), my active role on the Indigenous Review Panel, my commitment and work on the Mental Health Working Group and Task Forces, and my role as Chair of the Tribunal Committee, which has successfully worked on developing and implementing initiatives to increase the independence and professionalism of the Tribunal and better respond to the needs of vulnerable persons. This work needs to continue and I am committed to the implementation of the recommendations, and to advancing our work further on diversity and inclusion priorities.

In addition, I have spent my entire legal career working to advance the rights of diverse groups and individuals who face barriers and challenges in society including individuals from racialized groups, indigenous persons, persons living with disabilities and mental health issues, LGBTQ2S+ persons, women and those new to professions. I believe that my lived experience has led to a deeper understanding, from both a personal and professional perspective, of the kinds of barriers and challenges that persons from equity-seeking and marginalized communities face entering and practicing our profession, as well as the challenges the public faces in access to justice.

Scope of practice for paralegals and non-licensees

Expand to read Isfahan's views
Generally, I believe any expansion or change of any legal services, whether it is within the scope of paralegal practice or by non-licensees must be carefully considered in light of the LSO’s mandate to protect and promote the public interest.

FOLA asks: Thoughts on Funding Staffed Local Law Libraries

Expand to read Isfahan's views
I believe that access to legal information is critical, particularly for rural and small town lawyers. My first job, ever, was in a local library, and I worked in my law library throughout law school. I understand how important they are to communities and for sharing and maintaining knowledge. I would work on this issue collaboratively and respectfully.

Other topics

Candidate contributions on additional topics

Expand to read Isfahan's views
A Recommendation for a New Bencher: Sponsoring New Voices

In 2015, I ran in a joint campaign with Janet Leiper, an amazing mentor and friend, to promote greater equity amongst the Bencher group. This
election, we are expanding this commitment and sponsorship. I am pleased to support Jayashree Goswami, an exceptional Senior In-House Counsel.
She has served ably on the Equity Advisory Group and brings a fresh voice and proven track record on equity and inclusion issues. Her service and dedication on diverse issues make her an ideal candidate for Bencher.

For more information on each of us, and on our unique joint campaign, please see:

www.isfahanmerali.com www.jayashreegoswami.com

Other topics

Candidate contributions on additional topics

Expand to read Isfahan's views

Other topics

Candidate contributions on additional topics

Expand to read Isfahan's views

Endorsements of this candidate

Some candidates have chosen to provide lists of the people supporting their candidacy

Expand to see this Candidate's endorsements
These are some of my endorsements (the full list will be available at www.isfahanmerali.com)

Association of Law Officers of the Crown (ALOC)
Canadian Hispanic Bar Associaton (CHBA)
Criminal Lawyer’s Association (CLA)
Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (FACL)
Ranjan Agarwal
Raj Anand
Professor Constance Backhouse
Larry Banack
Jack Braithwaite
Chris Bredt
John Callaghan
Gerald Chan
Diane Corbiere
Orlando Da Silva
Rebecca Durcan
Etienne Esquega
Avvy Yao-Yao Go
Brian Gover
Howard Goldblatt
Dan Guttman
Lisa Jorgensen
Michael Lerner
Paul Le Vay
Malcolm Mercer
Barb Murchie
Bob Munroe
Gina Papageorgiou
Jonathan Rosenthal
Linda Rothstein
Paul Saguil
Paul Schabas
Cheryl Siran
Charlene Theodore
Lynne Vicars