Lawyers are a self-governing profession in Ontario and we oversee our own regulation through the Law Society of Ontario. This month the LSO published a “Call for Comment” seeking feedback on suggested changes to the LSO’s governance structure. Comments are due October 15, 2018. Many lawyers may have missed the email, so we’ve summarized the key points for you here.
The Governance Task Force has identified four options to streamline the government structure at the LSO and are seeking your input on the following suggestions:
1. A smaller size for the LSO’s board and changes to the composition of the board:
Every four years lawyers and paralegals vote in a “bencher” election. Benchers are the LSO’s directors. The LSO’s board is currently called “Convocation”. The next bencher election is in 2019.
[Brief side note: Unfortunately, it appears that most lawyers are not interested in exercising their right to vote in the bencher elections. Voter turnout has basically decreased with every bencher election with 56% of eligible voters choosing to vote in 1987, down to only 33.84% of eligible voters voting in the 2015 election. Benchers are the people who decided to: change us from “members” to “licensees”; change the Law Society of Upper Canada to the Law Society of Ontario; and implement the Statement of Principles. All of which caused a strong reaction in the legal profession (both in support of and against these decisions). Benchers potentially hold a lot of power in determining how we govern ourselves, yet few lawyers appear to be interested in voting on who can make such decisions and how.]
Currently there are 45 elected benchers (40 lawyers and 5 paralegals) and 8 “lay benchers” appointed by the government. There are also 35 ex officio benchers (such as former Treasurers, former attorney generals and “life benchers” who have been grandparented in after the 2010 governance reform which ended ex officio offices) as well as the Treasurer and the Attorney General, which makes up 90 members of Convocation.
One example to streamline LSO governance, as suggested by the Governance Task Force, is to keep the current make-up of benchers but remove the ex officio positions which were grandparented in.
Another suggestion is to reduce the number of elected positions to 29 and add 3 LSO appointments (in an attempt achieve greater diversity).
A third example is to reduce the number of elected positions even more to 20 and have a higher number of appointed positions: 7.
2. Changes to the Treasurer’s Term
The Task Force is also exploring changes to the Treasurer’s term, which is officially a one-year term but by convention is a two-year term (the Treasurer runs un-opposed for the second term). The suggestion is to make the Treasurer’s term a two-year term. Another option is to impose a Treasurer “ladder” with a vice president, president, past-president or two vice presidents and a president.
3. Changes to the Bencher terms
Currently a bencher term is four years with a 12-year term limit. The Call for Comment suggests both a shorter term and shorter term limit.
4. New Terminology
The fourth area for potential change is in the terminology we use. The Governance Task Force provided the option of changing Treasurer to President, as there may be confusion over the role of the Treasurer (i.e. people may think he or she is only responsible for financial matters rather than the whole board).
Along with this would be a change from the term "Convocation" to either Board, Board of Directors, Board of Governors, or Council and a change of the name "Bencher" to Board Member, Council Member, Director or Governor.
The LSO is taking the view that if they do go ahead and change the governance structure, significant changes must occur gradually. Some changes requiring legislative amendment would occur following the 2019 bencher election and would be in place for the 2023 bencher term.
Interested in learning more? Read the full report here. To comment you can fill out this online form.
Comments are due OCTOBER 15, 2018
**For more information on this topic see Adam Dodek's article on SLAW called Public Interest Regulation: Governance Reform at the Law Society of Ontario.
Are you interested in lawyer and paralegal governance? Do you want to have your say? Well there is a bencher election coming up in 2019. Consider running for a position on the board/convocation. The key dates are set out below:
Close of nominations: February 8, 2019
Election day: April 30, 2019
First day in office: May 23, 2019