Open Letter to Lawyers and Paralegals
Who we are
We are former Treasurers of the Law Society of Ontario (LSO). Collectively, our service to the profession goes back four decades. We have served with generations of benchers. We have presided over more than one hundred Convocations.
Why an Open Letter?
We are worried about the future of the LSO and of the legal profession’s ability to retain the privilege of self-governance. The key to that future lies in the choices made by licensees in the current bencher election. We oppose the FullStop slate. We urge licensees to support the Good Governance Coalition. We want you to know why. And if you agree, then unlike bencher elections in the past, you must vote for each of the 40 GGC candidates. A printable list of their names is on their website.
The Law Society and the Public Interest
The mandate of the LSO is to “govern the profession in the public interest.” This requires lawyers and paralegals in Convocation to consider not only the interests of licensees but more broadly, the impact of their decisions on the public interest as well. If ever the profession were to lose public confidence in its willingness to take the public interest into account, there would surely be calls for the Ontario government to displace the LSO and itself regulate lawyers and paralegals. Queen’s Park would then, for example, establish criteria for admission to the profession, determine our rules of professional conduct and both investigate and prosecute cases of alleged professional misconduct. The independence of the bar—so essential to the rule of law—would be lost forever.
In our experience, benchers in Convocation have traditionally managed the LSO’s affairs in keeping with its public mandate. Decisions relating to the practice of law and the work of paralegals have always considered the public interest. And debate in Convocation has always disclosed a keen awareness that self-governance is indeed a privilege—one that can be lost if we focus only on what is best for licensees.
The FullStop Slate
But things have changed. We have watched with rising concern in recent years the emergence in Convocation of a quite different approach to governing the profession. In the 2019 bencher election, a group of like-minded candidates ran as a “slate” under the moniker “StopSop”. That slate is seeking to be returned to Convocation in the 2023 election, this time as “FullStop”.
As a slate, FullStop is soliciting votes based on an ideological platform irrespective of the individual qualifications of their candidates. Rather than individuals offering independent judgment on issues as they arise, FullStop will form a voting bloc to impose the ideology they favour. Before deciding how to vote in this election, licensees should take a close look at that ideology as well as the conduct of the FullStop benchers over the last four years. Many aspects of their policies and their behavior are deeply troubling.
· They propose massive budget cuts that would gut the LSO’s core operations. In the past they have proposed cutting the LSO budget 10%-25% across the board, without regard, for example, to the impact on programs that assist sole and small-firm licensees.
· They want to abolish measures that preserve professionalism and enhance public trust in the profession.
· They want to eliminate assistance to those who face barriers in either accessing legal services or succeeding in the profession.
· They want to abolish mandatory Continuing Professional Development.
· They oppose mandatory minimum compensation for articling students.
· They dismiss as “wokeism” measures to favour inclusion, end discrimination and oppose harassment.
· And they consistently criticize and seek to curtail efforts by the LSO to encourage diversity and equity of access to the profession.
In short, the FullStop slate embraces a libertarian ideology that would pare down the LSO’s functions and read down its mandate to govern in the public interest. We are gravely concerned that if this ideology prevails, public confidence in the LSO will decline, measures to protect the public interest will be lost, and public pressure will increase for the Ontario government to assume control of our profession.
And there is one other aspect of the FullStop slate that concerns us deeply. Some of their members display crude and offensive conduct in Convocation that is simply not worthy of benchers—or indeed of any member of our profession.
In our experience, debate among benchers on issues of the day was carried on with civility and a sense of collegiality. To be sure, there were often controversial and divisive matters to resolve. But even in the heat of lively debate, benchers were able to behave in a responsible and respectful manner. Today, Convocation has become a polarized and fractious forum that too often descends into incivility.
The Good Governance Coalition
FullStop’s ideology and behavior have driven other bencher candidates to form the Good Governance Coalition to oppose FullStop’s approach. The Good Governance Coalition offers an attractive alternative: a return to civility, mainstream values and responsible management of the Law Society. Although the Good Governance Coalition is running as a slate, its candidates explain that they are doing so only for electoral purposes, and they undertake if elected to act as independent benchers and not to vote as a bloc.
The FullStop slate is seeking a majority in Convocation to implement the ideology they have pursued these last four years. The Good Governance Coalition offers a more responsible, moderate and democratic alternative.
It is therefore clear that the election of benchers this spring carries special significance.
We urge all eligible electors to vote. In deciding who to support, we ask you to remember what is at stake. We believe that the future of professional self-government is on the ballot. And surely it is only through responsible management of the profession’s affairs that we will hold the confidence of the public in our ability to govern ourselves in the public interest.
Lee K. Ferrier
W. A. Derry Millar
Laurie H. Pawlitza
Harvey T. Strosberg