As he heads into his last week as the 64th Treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC), Thomas Conway admits to a certain philosophical mood.
“It is an intense job,” Conway says in his offices at Osgoode Hall. “Renewal is good for any organization, and for the Treasurer leaving, it is an opportunity to renew oneself.”
First elected Bencher in 2007, Conway was acclaimed to the Treasurer’s job in 2012 and again in 2013. By current practice, Treasurers serve two one-year terms. The next Treasurer will be elected at Convocation June 26.
His two terms as Treasurer have seen significant changes, challenges, intense debates and initiatives. These have realigned Canada’s largest and oldest law society with an evolving landscape of legal services, public demand and technological challenges – an evolution that is far from over.
Just Good Governance
The day Conway took office two years ago, the Law Society presented its report on the paralegal licensing to David Morris, author of the Five-Year Review of Paralegal Regulation in Ontario for the Attorney General.
Conway’s last day in office, the next Treasurer will be elected by a Convocation that includes five paralegal Benchers — fulfilling a recommendation in the Morris Report. A legislative amendment that updated the Law Society Act added three new bencher positions to Convocation, for a total of five paralegal members. The number of benchers had not changed since 1970. Convocation voted unanimously in favour of the change.
Typical of his sentiment about paralegal licensees, Conway sees the change as “just good governance.”
“Paralegals are full participants in every aspect of the Law Society, and have the same rights and responsibilities as every other Bencher,” Conway notes. The Law Society’s Professional Development and Competence Committee continues to address paralegal-specific issues about education, the licensing process and scope of practice that were identified in that Five-Year Review.
What the Job is About
The Treasurer is the highest elected official of the Law Society, which regulates Ontario’s lawyers and paralegals in the public interest. Treasurer presides over Convocation, the Law Society’s governing board. It comprises 40 lawyer, eight lay benchers and five paralegal Benchers.
Besides chairing and setting the agenda for meetings and establishing Convocation committees, the Treasurer is also the public face of the Law Society, representing its more than 45,000 lawyer and 6,000 paralegal members across Canada and around the world.
Conway reflects on the highlights of his tenure, which saw significant change for the Law Society and the provision of legal services in the province. He lists improving external relationships as a highlight of his term.
Through such measures as the National Mobility Agreement, closer ties are in place, between LSUC and law societies across Canada and abroad. Jurisdictions such as British Columbia, Washington State and California look to the LSUC paralegal licensing model as they prepare to licence non-lawyer legal services providers. “All jurisdictions are coping with similar problems in trying to close the access to justice gap,” Conway says.
The Articling Task Force and the related Law Practice Program at Ryerson University, an overhaul of the Tribunal system, and, of course, the legislative changes that established regulation of the paralegal profession are also achievements from his term.
One Change, Huge Impact
Paralegal regulation began in 2007 with the Access to Justice Act. It continues to have a profound effect, the Treasurer says, as it touches on the one issue that imbues his term and will be his legacy.
“Really, for me, the most personally gratifying achievement of my term as Treasurer has been the Access to Justice Initiative,” Conway says.
“We have re-engineered how we conduct business and what we focus on. That is very much a consequence of paralegal regulation and legislative reforms. I don’t think people realized it at the time, but the Access to Justice Act said to the Law Society, ‘You should not view yourselves as a self-regulating profession. You should view yourselves as the regulator of legal services in Ontario.’ Regulating paralegals is part of that. In all that we do, we facilitate access to justice for all Ontarians and paralegals are key players in that.”
What started as the Treasurer’s Advisory Group (TAG) has evolved into The Action Group on Access to Justice, a new forum to foster collaboration on initiatives to make justice more accessible.
Evolution of a Profession – It Never Ends
“With paralegal regulation and other reforms, the Law Society is on a very different footing than it was,” Conway says. “To have the Law Society evolve and change that quickly has been interesting to observe. We have done a lot of things in seven years and we must continue to be nimble.”
Attitudes, reforms and underlying views have evolved during his seven years as a Bencher and Treasurer. “In a short time, paralegals have become key players in the expansion of the range of legal services to Ontarians, Treasurer Conway says. “The Morris Report found that we have fairly and successfully regulated paralegals. It laid out several areas we need to address.”
Conway says he is encouraged by recent developments, such as the law associations that have invited paralegals to join. The County of Carleton Law Association (CCLA), which he once headed, and the Waterloo Law Association, have “got it absolutely right” he says.
Given that a few lawyers and paralegals continue to be vocal about their opposition to paralegal regulation under the Law Society, “It probably means we are getting it right,” Conway quips.
“More change will inevitably come, and it must be at an appropriate pace, to ensure that Ontarians continue to get high-quality legal services. Remember, in 2007 there were zero licensed paralegals in the province. Now there are 6,000.”
Change the Conversation
Paralegals and lawyers alike could adjust the tone and tenor of conversations about paralegal licensing, Conway says. “There needs to be acceptance that the Law Society is regulating the paralegal profession. Let’s just move on with things. Because, guess what? By every measure, it has been a success. We are a modern regulator of legal services. What I hear most often is an acceptance that paralegals are here to stay.”
He notes that lawyers’ organizations are starting to look at paralegals in a new light. “The question, is, how can we integrate paralegals into our activities? That is a more productive and constructive question to be asking.”
As for what may be next for paralegals in the province, Conway says change will come, with public protection always first in mind. “It’s hard to predict what the scope of paralegal practice will look like seven years down the road. We will continue to build on the progress noted in the Morris Report. We have been methodical about instituting reforms.”
It’s not just paralegal regulation that will see adjustments. An appropriate way to ensure access to justice, and quality legal information for the public, may be to offer limited licensing in legal services provided by non-lawyers and non-paralegals, Conway says.
“Not every legal problem requires a regulated legal service provider to be solved. We have seen a lot of diversification in a short period of time. We can improve access to justice by ensuring that people have access to accurate legal information when it is needed. I see that trend continuing. How we manage that will be interesting.”
Passing the Torch
Two initiatives he had hoped to see completed by the end of his term are not yet complete and will be taken up by the next Treasurer: the Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees Working Group and the Alternative Business Structures (ABS) Working Group.
Conway says the committees have not made their final recommendations to Convocation because each raises issues of interest to a large number of people. Bringing all the concerns and opinions to the table in a transparent way calls for a “serious and deliberate” pace.
He expects the intense and uncommonly public decision not to accredit Trinity Western University (TWU) will also be a live issue long after he leaves his office at Osgoode.
“It is a rare thing for a law society debate to attract that much attention. This issue will move from Convocation to the courts. Most observers believe that the Law Society of Upper Canada’s decision, if not the decisions of other jurisdictions, will end up at the Supreme Court of Canada. It will be a few years yet before that issue is resolved.”
To Every Thing, a Season
A partner at Cavanagh LLP in Ottawa, where his practice is in civil and commercial litigation, Conway was called to the Bar of Ontario in 1989. He is vice president and president-elect of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. His presidency starts in November.
Conway’s last day as Treasurer will be steeped in tradition.
Benchers robe for the day, and after the new Treasurer is elected, he will leave the building and not return for at least six months – with two exceptions. The Federation of Law Societies of Canada has a meeting scheduled at Osgoode Hall, and Conway will attend special Remembrance Day events he is helping to plan at Osgoode, to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.
Treasurer Conway is married and has two children. Travelling most weeks has limited his family time these past two years. His face lights up as he talks about spending more time in Ottawa. “I am really looking forward to that.”
Three Benchers are running for Treasurer. Whether it is Raj Anand, Chris Bredt or Janet Minor, Conway says the Law Society will be in good hands. “It is a shame only one can be elected.”