Ryan Alford

Lawyer Candidate – Northwest Region

Priorities

The repeal of the Statement of Principles requirement should be the first order of business. Convocation should re-evaluate what it approved, especially after seeing how it was presented by LSO staff to those it regulates. After it was approved by a majority of benchers who had insisted that the SoP imposed no new obligations, LSO officials said we were now required to demonstrate a personal valuing of certain values, and to conform our conduct to and promote those values—as the Law Society, or inevitably, the Tribunal, subsequently defines them—in both our personal and our personal lives. Had it known this would be the case, I cannot imagine that Convocation would have rejected the Groia/Vespry motion that would have created an exception for conscientious objectors. (The LSO refused a binding abandonment of the broadest, maximally impairing interpretations of this requirement, which would have ended the constitutional challenge.)

The esssential background to this problem is the increasing disconnection between the LSO and the realities of legal practice, particularly as it exists outside of Toronto and in small-firm and solo practice. (This disconnection will be reinforced if plans to reduce Convocation’s membership even further are not defeated, particularly the proposal that has been floated to transform Convocation into the analogue of a board of directors.) Whenever new regulatory burdens are created (and whenever they are balanced against regulatory objectives) the ability of large law firms to make these commitments and bear those burdens is the implicit benchmark. Further reinforcement of this dynamic would alienate small-firm and solo practitioners, which would have a negative effect on access to justice in the communities they serve.

Convocation will soon be considering “entity regulation”, which might apply to two-person partnerships as much as it does the Toronto offices of global megafirms. As it prepared to consider this momentous issue, it pushed out a number of life benchers who had served a vital role as the institutional memory of Convocation. A rush to create broad swaths of new and highly invasive regulation in this context would be a ill-conceived.

Now more than ever, we need sober reflection within our deliberative body, which must represent those upon whom the burden would fall the hardest just as much as those who stand the most to gain. This is particularly true in the event that Bay Street raises new trial balloons for a revival of Alternative Business Structures, ready to be launched in the event that Convocation can be shaped into a more pliable apparatus.

Background

Ryan Alford is a tenured professor at the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law in Thunder Bay, who teaches constitutional law, administrative law, and seminars in legal history.

He holds a research doctorate in constitutional law from the University of South Africa, a master’s degree in law from the University of Oxford, and a law degree from New York University.

In addition to teaching at Bora Laskin, Ryan served as a Visiting Fellow of the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History (in Frankfurt, Germany) and a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Victoria.

Before teaching, Ryan practiced law in Brussels and in New York City.

He is one of the Co-Applicants challenging the constitutionality of the Law Society’s Statement of Principles requirement.;

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

Candidates I support

Anyone candidate who supports the repeal of the Statement of Principles Requirement (and those who supported a conscience-based exception to that requirement).

Something the LSO does that it should stop doing

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.

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

We need benchers who will promote sober reflection within a deliberative body that represents everyone –which includes those upon whom the burden would fall the hardest just as much as those who stand the most to gain. This is particularly true if Bay Steet readies new proposals for Alternative Business Structures (ABS), prepared to be launched in the event that Convocation can be trimmed down to a size where the appointed membership might outnumber those elected by Ontario’s lawyers.

When new regulatory burdens are created (or when they are balanced against regulatory objectives) the ability of large law firms to bear those burdens is too often the implicit benchmark. Further reinforcement of this standard might prove disastrous to small-firm and solo practitioners, which in turn might have a devastating effect on access to justice in the communities they serve.

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

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Access to justice in this region depends principally on the continued strength and morale of the local bar. Create too many regulatory obligations (which currently require small-town/small-firm lawyers to dedicate far too many hours to regulatory compliance (quare: whether the Know Your Client regulations are equally well-tailored for all types of practice)) and work life balance will be affected. Untimately, the viability of practice in more remote communities may suffer an inexorable decline.

A number of my former students were shocked by the call and examination fees that the LSO levies: this too must be considered as an access to justice issue. If young lawyers, burdened by debts incurred by entities regulated by the LSO–and, increasingly, by the LSO itself–simply cannot afford to practice in certain areas or certain communities, then these fees should be considered a barrier to justice. Which they are.

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The decision to remove life benchers and former Attorneys-General from Convocation was a blow to its ability to carefully and adequately consider a set of issues that are likely to come to the forefront very soon — namely, entity regulation and the revival of proposals for alternative business structures. Further narrowing of the benchers into something akin to a corporate board is considered by many knowledgeable insiders to be a step towards implementing those reforms, which broad segments of the profession–namely, the majority of small-firm and solo practioners–would never approve.
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The decision to approve a new faculty of law in downtown Toronto that is planning to charge its students full fees on a cost-recovery basis (without any government subsidies) should give us pause. We cannot support the cause of access to justice by creating a generation of lawyers burdened by crippling debts.
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Given the serious concerns about how the SoP infringes freedom of conscience and constitutes compelled speech, and as it could serve as a precedent for values tests that might be imposed by the government in many other contexts, this one requirement–alone among the eight EDI proposals Convocation accepted–cannot stand. Requiring someone to say they agree with the rightness of any law, rather than merely requiring their promise to uphold it, crosses a threshold our Constitution demarcated a very long time ago.

Every lawyer must retain the freedom to disagree with any law (or even with the Constitution) and to advocate changing it with all legal means (up to and including advocating the abolition of the monarchy or even the rule of law). That is the essence of an independent legal profession in any free society.

Artificial Intelligence in Legal Service Delivery

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I think we all need to consider this issue very carefully, although at the moment I have an open mind on the topic.
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More needs to be done to encourage small-firm and solo practitioners to serve as articling principals. While alternate pathways remain viable, the articling route should be strengthened. The LSO needs to devote its resources to determining how it can remove barriers in this area, or even incentivize these lawyers — particularly those in remote communities or who are approaching retirement — so that they will reconsider serving in this role.
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I believe this issue requires detailed and sober consideration. I firmly believe that the burden of proof is on those seeking potentially far-reaching changes to legal practice, particularly if they would be irreverisible. I believe that I am amenable to persuasion and look forward to reviewing all the evidence in detail.
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Entity-based regulation has the potential to be a regulatory nightmare for small-firm practioners. The possibillty of massive duplication of onerous record-keeping obligations and the spectre of needless audits loom large over the proposals. The failure to consider how this would affect those who are already over-burdened might have catastrophic effects on the viability of legal practice in certain areas and in particular communities.
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We should deliberate very carefully before we impose another potentially onerous set of requirments on small firm and solo practitioners, particularly those approaching retirement why may have excellent paper-based file systems in place.

Reconciliation and Indigenous Communities

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One aspect of this issue that deserves more attention is that access to justice for indigenous communities requires a substantial increase in the number of indigenous lawyers and licencees interested in working with indigenous communities. While law facuties and universities are doing their part, LSO should consider what it can do to lower barriers to entry for those from and who would like to serve indigenous communities.
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It is quite telling that despite the clear rejection of ABS everywhere but on Bay Street, the issue is almost certain to come before Convocation again in the near future. Before that time, I encourage every lawyer to look carefully at what happened in Australia, particularly in the area of Insurance Defence, and ask themselves whether that is what we want for Ontario.
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I believe the most important dimension of this issue is whether we risk further consolidation of the legal marketplace (which impairs access to justice) by approving new forms of marketing and novel fee arrangements. If it can be clearly demonstrated that this is not unduly disruptive, further changes might prove themselves unproblematic.

Specific Enhancements to Licensing System

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Two measures are essential: reducing the fees the LSO charges for examinations and calls (and related fees) and doing whatever we can to encourage solo and small firm practitioners (particularly in remote areas) to serve as articling principals.
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In principle, I see no reason why it shouldn’t be, but there are many issues that might remain respect to the implementation. The primary consideration is cost-effectiveness: CPD fees are often quite far out of alignment with what is provided. Whatever measures that can be taken to keep the costs down–particularly for new calls–should be taken.
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Convocation needs to remain a body that represents the legal system in all its variety, including robust regional representation and with benchers hailing from all levels and areas of practice. Certain governance reform proposals would threaten this, the sine qua non of adequate governance. I do not believe that the benchers can determine a priori what would be best for all the licensees of such a varied profession, but should solicit and respect the opinions of all their colleagues on controversial issues whenever necessary.
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Many bencher candidates have done much to raise the visibility of this issue, and I applaud them. I think that electing benchers who pledge to make this a priority is essential, especially as the increased visibility of those who are willing to say that it is not shameful to have struggled with these issues–especially if they have struggled with these issues themselves–is central. I believe that these candidates, if elected, would also be well-positioned to evaluate how our assistance programs might be supplemented and promoted.
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The LSO increasingly appears to be an organization that burns dues money and emits marketing material. It runs a deficit despite having a budget set at almost one hundred and fifty million dollars, which is completely unacceptible. Increasingly, we can observe dues and fees monies being spent on line items of questionable value, such as public awareness campaigns for the LSO itself and a remarkably expensive rebranding campaign. The question is whether we are prepared to do something about it, in what might be the last election where this remains possible.

Diversity and Inclusivity Priorities

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I have no objection to any of the EDI iniatives undertaken by the LSO, with the obvious exception of the Statement of Principles requirement.

Scope of practice for paralegals and non-licensees

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The burden of proof on the expansion of paralegal practice lies squarely with those who would seek to expand it. Here, I think the opinion of life benchers and former Attorneys-General would have been of particular interest.

FOLA asks: Thoughts on Funding Staffed Local Law Libraries

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I have no objection in principle to this funding, but I believe that the ability of local bar associations to assist in this endeavour might vary greatly, such that a tailored approach to providing that funding might be warranted. Local libraries continue to be an essential resource (particularly in remoter areas) and I would support all measures that help them to remain viable.

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