Governing in the public interest means that we must license lawyers who have the necessary skills and knowledge for today’s legal environment. We have successfully addressed the increasing number of licensing candidates seeking articling positions by creating and adding the LPP to the traditional articling requirement. We have required that articling and LPP placements be paid positions and introduced other enhancements designed to ensure productive and respectful learning environments. We need to finish the job by increasing the rigour of the licensing exams.
I will support the introduction of fair and objective skills examinations when the topic is raised at Convocation. At present, the Law Society, and therefore the public, have no assurance that candidates have the competencies required for practice. About 30% of lawyers who undergo a practice review within their first 8 years of practice do not meet Law Society standards of competence. In my view, the multiple-choice exams that we currently administer are not enough. We should test legal skills such as the ability to draft a simple opinion letter, identify options for resolving a legal problem and conduct an interview with a client.
I realize that there are costs to more complex testing that students burdened by heavy debt loads can ill afford. We can’t sacrifice the standards expected of lawyers by the public because of university and law school tuition over which we have no control. We must continue to look for ways to lessen the costs of obtaining a legal education to the extent possible and, given our limited jurisdiction keep increases to the licensing fee modest and justifiable. Law schools in England that offer Canadian law degrees have programs that do so in two years. Canadian law schools could substantially reduce student tuition costs by offering the same program. If they added an LPP-style third year they could graduate lawyers who are ready for practice.
Lawyers and Paralegals face increasing pressure to provide legal services more cost-effectively or pro bono. At the same time, we face increased competition, including from internet service providers. In the next four years, benchers will need to consider how to encourage and support the technological changes we must all make to stay relevant and affordable.
Access to Justice is a Law Society priority that is largely delivered by lawyers and paralegals, many in smaller practices. In the next four years, the Law Society will need to develop resources that assist and encourage our members to incorporate new technologies into their client service models. Technology is one avenue to providing less expensive legal services to those with limited ability to pay. We must also continue to support and advocate for increased legal aid for citizens who do not have the resources to retain lawyers. The Law Society needs to maximize the value of local libraries and develop resources that assist those in smaller firms to effectively and efficiently provide access to justice for the public.
What are we waiting for? Our own “Me Too” moment that brings shame on the entire profession? We need to be ahead on this issue. We’re lawyers. We know we have fairness and equality obligations. We know that our profession is not immune to sexual harassment and racial discrimination. Convocation passed the Recommendations of the Challenges Facing Racialized Lawyers Working Group and the motion to extend those Recommendations, as appropriate, to all equality-seeking groups in 2016. I know that enthusiasm for the Recommendations has been uneven. My hope is that all lawyers will come to recognize the benefits of this initiative and be proud of our profession for being leaders in addressing a problem that exists in every environment.
Implementation of the Recommendations is proceeding and benchers will be monitoring the results as they develop over the next few years. Absent extraordinary circumstances, I do not expect and would not support further initiatives in this field. We need to give the recommendations a chance to work. That being said, if the evidence continues to show sexual harassment and discrimination complaints in the workplace, benchers may have to consider whether there are further steps we can take in the interim to support lawyers and students who want to address the problem themselves (rather than lodging a complaint to the LSO) and to facilitate the reporting of such incidents in a manner that will lead to it being addressed.
The statistics show that only 9% of the partners in firms in Ontario are women, while 26% are men. This is despite women being half or more of the calls to the bar for more than 30 years. 12% are listed as “retired” or “not working” compared to 5% for men. We need to update our information on how many women are leaving private practice or the profession and why. It is time to revisit the Justicia Project, review and publish the current statistics and assess whether efforts to retain women have met with any success. We also need to review the Justicia Resources to ensure they remain current and useful.