It was short and sweet at the Law Society of Upper Canada’s (LSUC) Annual General Meeting (AGM) at Osgoode Hall in Toronto, May 7.
Treasurer Tom Conway chaired the meeting at the Lamont Learning Centre at Osgoode. It lasted about an hour. The meeting touched on unexpected LSUC events from the past year, as well as the usual business matters, including the presentation of the financial statements and an update on the Law Society’s three-year priorities.
“So far, this going a bit better than last year,” Conway quipped, referring to last May’s AGM. A motion related to expanded paralegal scope of practice had been withdrawn in the hours before the meeting, but not before the issue drew such interest that the venue was moved to a nearby hotel. Dozens of lawyers and paralegals asked questions from the floor, during the sometimes tense meeting.
This year, one paralegal asked the Treasurer about the reasons for in-camera meetings and for paralegal benchers not to discuss certain matters that have not been presented to Convocation – the “board of governors” of the Law Society. Conway explained that all LSUC committees are held in-camera to promote a “free exchange of information and views” and that Convocation exercises discretion with its by-law authority to conduct certain limited matters in private.
Firsts and Lasts
With his second term ending soon, this was Conway’s last AGM as Treasurer. For the first time, the annual report was available electronically, ahead of the meeting.
Treasurer Conway mentioned the Trinity Western University (TWU) matter. Last month, Convocation voted not to accredit graduates from the faith-based British Columbia university’s planned law school. TWU has announced that it will file a request for Judicial Review of the LSUC decision, and is taking legal steps in other jurisdictions where law societies have made decisions related to its law school. “We will respond in due course, when the request for Judicial Review is filed,” Conway said.
LSUC priorities, updated in the annual report for 2013, include: Access to Justice; Alternative Business Structures; Competence and Professional Standards; Tribunal Issues; Professional Regulation; and Equity, Diversity and Retention.
Access to Justice
Helping more Ontarians to be able to use the legal system has been a priority since the province amended the Law Society Act in 2006, Conway said. He will press the next provincial government to increase the number of people who qualify for Legal Aid Ontario certificates, an effort that has already had “an excellent start.”
He updated the audience on The Action Group on Access to Justice (TAG), his ongoing initiative. TAG functions as a standing forum, with members from across the justice system looking for innovative new ways to help Ontarians navigate a justice system that is “often complex and time-consuming.”
Another highlight Treasurer Conway mentioned from 2013 was the Law Society’s work with the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, on national regulatory projects. Convocation has approved moving forward with the first phase of the Federation’s National Admission Standards Project; that is focused on high national standards for the regulation of the legal profession.
Amended lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct, based on the Federation’s Model Code of Professional Conduct are to come into effect in October 2014. The Paralegal Rules of Conduct will be updated to reflect the language used in the Federation model.
Expanded and Refined Tribunal Process
Speaking to tribunal issues, Conway said changes have made the hearing process more transparent, fair and effective. David A. Wright has been appointed as the first independent, non-bencher tribunal chair. Convocation has appointed 10 new adjudicators, including three paralegals. An independent adjudicative tribunal ensures that process functions separately from the rest of the organization’s work.
Conway noted recent media interest in the LSUC discipline system and in particular, complaints about its handling of issues related to lawyers’ reported conduct. The Treasurer disputed reports in the Toronto Star and has written an open letter to the paper, addressing its reporting.
Alternative Business Structures
Advances in technology, the globalization of the business of law, and the pressure of client needs are all contributing to a transformation in the way legal services will be provided in the future, Conway said.
Other common law jurisdictions have changed the ways they licence and regulate legal services providers; law firms are able to raise equity through share offerings, and multinational law firms are now opening their doors in Canada and other countries. Conway noted the limited range of legal services at discount prices, being offered within Wal-mart now.
The Law Society’s Alternative Business Structures (ABS) Working Group is examining delivery models and looking at regulatory considerations. The Working Group hosted a symposium and is considering a range of alternative business structures.
Competence and Professional Standards
Convocation changed the Continuing Professional Development Requirement, after a two-year review. More than 3,700 CPD programs were accredited in 2013, LSUC stats show. The Law Society and has started to develop the substantive examination framework for paralegals — due to begin with the August 2015 writing of the exam.
About 5,000 complaints about licensees are forwarded each year from Complaints Services to the Professional Regulation Division. Conway noted that the number of complaints per licensee has decreased over the past four years, and the complaints have not kept pace with increasing numbers of licensees. The number of paralegals licensed by the Law Society increased by 213% between 2009 and 2013, but the number of paralegals who received a complaint only increased by 64%.
LSUC continues to implement recommendations in the Retention of Women in Private Practice Report, and launched a consultation to identify challenges faced by racialized lawyers and paralegals.