FOLA motion addressing ‘greying of the bar’ passes at LSO annual general meeting

By Amanda Jerome

Law360 Canada (May 11, 2023, 2:57 PM EDT) -- The Federation of Ontario Law Associations’ (FOLA) motion that the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) implement strategies and incentives to address the “greying of the bar” passed at the annual general meeting (AGM) on May 10.  

The motion, presented by FOLA chair, Douglas Judson, outlined four directives:

  • “That the Law Society shall develop and implement financial and non-financial strategies and incentives for the purpose of encouraging lawyer and paralegal licensing candidates and recently-called lawyers and recently-licensed paralegals to locate their practices in under-served communities;
  • That the strategies and incentives to be developed may include any or all of preferential licensing program fees or rebates, preferred rates for annual fees, and small firm and sole practitioner succession planning supports;
  • That the strategies and incentives under consideration shall be brought to Convocation for decision;
  • That the Law Society shall consult closely with county and district law associations, paralegal associations, the Federation of Ontario Law Associations, Ontario’s paralegal college program coordinators, and Ontario’s law school deans in relation to this motion.”

Douglas Judson, Federation of Ontario Law Associations

Douglas Judson, Federation of Ontario Law Associations

Judson noted that FOLA is the “voice of Ontario’s 46 County and district law associations, and as such,” the motion held a “special significance to our constituency across Ontario’s legal community.”

“The motion recognizes the importance of access to legal service providers as part of access to justice. The motion makes no policy prescriptions, but rather calls on the law society to begin a process and dialogue on an important issue facing Ontarians,” Judson explained, noting that the motion was a “direct response to what we are hearing from lawyers across the province that their local bar is greying at a rapid pace, and it is creating serious access to justice challenges.”

“Good governance in the public interest requires that we go through a diligent policy process to answer that challenge,” he added, noting that the motion invited the “profession to begin that work.”

Judson said, “many will assume the greying or shrinking of the bar is a phenomenon linked to smaller, rural and northern communities.” However, “it is not.”

“In many parts of the parts of the province, even in larger centres, we are seeing a retraction of the number of lawyers practising in key areas, like family law and criminal defence, areas where some of the most marginalized members of society are often seeking help through Legal Aid, and for whom meeting a lawyer over Zoom and email is simply not realistic,” he explained, emphasizing that the motion had the “support of law associations across the province, county law associations, like Rainy River, Huron and Frontenac, but also practice area and equity seeking bar associations, like the Family Law Association and the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers.”

According to Judson, the “common thread in that broad base of support is the recognition that lawyers who are connected to and understand their communities, whether they are geographic, cultural, or racialized communities, can provide better service to their clients.”

Judson reminded AGM attendees that “the privilege of self-regulation, under the Law Society Act, calls on the law society to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario.”

“That principle is not limited by postal code. On this pledge, we are failing Ontarians if we cannot begin by acknowledging inequities in access to legal service and committing to use our regulatory and licensing tools to do something about it,” he stressed.

The motion passed 52-9 with three abstentions.

The other motion, brought by Daniel Freiheit, took issue with the LSO’s decision to exclude people from the Great Library on the basis of COVID-19 vaccination status. The policy was instituted by the LSO’s CEO during the pandemic and was in place until Aug. 15, 2022.

The motion called for the CEO’s corporate statement regarding the policy to be “void ab initio;” that any individual “denied access to the Great Library shall be indemnified at a per diem rate determined by the Special Priority Advisory Committee, acting reasonably;” that any “policy, rule or requirement by the Law Society to exclude a Member of the Law Society or a member of the public from the Great Library, based on the individual’s vaccination status, shall require the unanimous consent of Convocation, or two thirds vote of the Law Society members at the most recent Annual General Meeting;” and that the “foregoing resolution be brought to the Special Priority Advisory Committee and the Access to Justice Committee for further consideration.”

Freiheit noted that the motion “basically asks the direct involvement of Convocation, and or the members of the law society, when it comes to implementing any policy that would exclude law society members, or members of the public, from the Great Library.”

Freiheit brought the motion to address what he thought was “an incorrect decision on the law society’s part,” but “also going forward, this type of drastic change or corporate decision has to really involve more than one person.”

“It can’t rest solely in the hands of the CEO,” he stressed, noting that the “decision to exclude unvaccinated people from the library really goes to the heart of, in my view, being a lawyer and accessing a really valuable resource.”

He acknowledged that many materials can be “accessed online, or by calling the librarian,” but he emphasized “there’s an experience of being in a library that’s really important for all members, aspiring lawyers, current lawyers, and to exclude them, in my mind, really goes to the heart and the constitution of the law society and who can become a member.”

Freiheit noted that in February 2022, Dr. Kieran Moore, the chief medical officer of Ontario, “announced publicly that vaccines were not stopping transmission, and that the mandates, vaccine mandates and policies at that point, would have to be revisited.” Dr. Theresa Tam, chief public health officer of Canada, he noted “made a similar announcement a month later.”

“And at that point, it occurred to me that all the policies of exclusion that our province and the country had been implementing … would all be revoked or rescinded,” he said, noting that he “didn't know at the time that the law society had this policy in place.”

The fact that the policy was in place until August 2022 was a “real shocker” to Freiheit who didn’t even know a policy was in place at the LSO.

“When I looked at the bylaws, looked at the rules,” he said, he questioned, “under what authority was this done?”

Going forward, Freiheit believes any such policy has to have the buy-in of Convocation and the membership.

However, the motion failed 34-14 with four abstentions.

The AGM also included an introduction to the LSO’s Annual Report and financials.

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