Professional regulation may be a boring topic for some, but you only have to look back to the 2019 Law Society of Ontario (LSO) Bencher election to realize it is not without its controversies. And while the 2019 election was arguably more contentious than past elections, it still revealed the continuing trend of decreasing voter turnout. Following 56% of eligible voters voting in 1987, down to only 33.84% in 2015, the 2019 election saw a mere 30% of eligible lawyers voting and 17% of eligible paralegals.
Low voter turnout indicates that lawyers do not prioritize the bencher election. This is concerning as the LSO benchers have the power to make decisions about very important issues that affect not only the legal profession as a whole, but also individual lawyers, including how much we pay in annual fees to the LSO. Benchers also debate and decide on key issues such as access to justice initiatives, lawyers’ competency to practice law (and remedial or disciplinary measures for those who are not), the licensing process, entity-based regulation, diversity and inclusion initiatives, the cost of legal education, and alternative business structures.
With the 2023 bencher elections just around the corner, we are encouraging all eligible licensees to vote.
Elections will be open to all licensed lawyers and paralegals who are members of the LSO.
Here is some information to help you navigate the elections.
What is a bencher?
Benchers are elected members of the Law Society who serve on its decision-making body, known as Convocation. They meet about once a month to debate policy and make important decisions regarding the regulation of the legal profession in Ontario.
Convocation comprises 40 lawyer benchers (20 from inside Toronto and 20 from outside Toronto) and five paralegal benchers. It also includes eight lay benchers appointed by the provincial government.
February 24, 2023, 5 PM: Nominations close.
April 19 - April 28, 2023: Voting begins.
April 28th, 5 PM, 2023: Voting ends.
May 1, 2023: Results are announced.
Who can run as a bencher?
Licensed lawyers and paralegals from all areas of Ontario are encouraged to run. To be eligible to run, candidates must be nominated by at least five lawyer licensees. Additionally, they must complete a candidate orientation course if they have yet to be an elected bencher.
If you are interested in running, be sure to submit your nomination form by February 24th, 5PM ET. You can consult the complete list of requirements here.
Who is running?
What is unique to this election is that many candidates are members of one of two parties or coalitions: FullStop or The Bencher Good Governance Coalition.
FullStop, previously called StopSop, was formed during the 2019 LSO bencher elections and currently holds 22 seats. FullStop ran on a single issue of stopping the proposed Statement of Principles (SOP), which the Convocation ultimately repealed in 2019. According to the FullStop Twitter account, they will announce their 2023 campaign shortly. While they do not have an updated website, you can see their website from the 2019 campaign here: http://stopsop.ca/
In response to the success of the FullStop slate, The Good Governance Coalition was formed in 2022, in advance of the 2023 elections. In a blog post on their website they write, "the Coalition does not believe the public interest is well served by the FullStop's divisive politics. If elected, Coalition candidates will not be required to advance any platform, nor will they vote as a bloc. They will be free to vote as they see fit." They seek to return "competent, representative leadership to the Law Society" with their experienced and diverse candidates. You can read more about the Coalition, its vision, and the candidates here: https://www.goodgovernancecoalition.ca/
Voting - What do you need to know?
Voting begins April 19, so you have two months to read up on the candidates in preparation. To help, the LSO will publish a Voting Guide with more information about the candidates shortly.
Voting can be done through the internet or over the telephone. According to the LSO, more information on voting will be posted to each eligible voter's Law Society Portal account in the third week of April 2023, in addition to an email.
The foregoing provides only an overview and does not constitute legal advice. Readers are cautioned against making any decisions based on this material alone. Rather, specific legal advice should be obtained.
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