What are the Alternatives?
Over the next year, there will be many opportunities to get to know each other better as I visit your communities, attend your section events, share good times and listen to your concerns. I will take these opportunities to talk with you about everything from ensuring good mental health to ensuring good value for your membership dollars. So, rather than write the usual introduction to me and my mandate, I thought I should hit the ground running in my inaugural president’s message by addressing what is likely to be the most significant and potentially divisive issue we grapple with this year – whether, and how fundamentally, we are prepared to change the business models through which we practise law. The many facets of this discussion have been subsumed under the shorthand “Alternative Business Structures” (ABS).
For the OBA, the ABS discussion has been brought to the fore from two directions: the Law Society of Upper Canada indicated that they would be consulting the bar about the advisability of permitting lawyers to provide legal service to the public through business structures other than lawyer-owned law firms. At the same time, the CBA Legal Futures Initiative was conducting its work on, among other things, ABS. Their report, Futures: Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada (the “Futures Report”), was released at the Canadian Legal Conference in August and recommends permitting “[n]on-lawyer investment in legal practices ... only on a carefully regulated basis.” The CBA has clarified that the recommendations in the Futures Report do not “yet represent CBA policy”. Over the course of the next few months, the CBA anticipates “further discussion and debate from coast-to-coast” and invites “all members to engage in this conversation”. The CBA hopes to bring forward resolutions for consideration at CBA’s next Council meeting in February 2015.
In order to effectively represent your interests throughout the CBA’s national “discussion and debate” and our Law Society’s consultation, the OBA has established an ABS taskforce to gather the views of our members. We will consult lawyers in every region of the province - from sole practitioners to large-firm lawyers, from articling students to senior partners. We will invite the views of each of our 39 practice sections and all of our council members; we have already heard some of the concerns of the real estate and personal injury bars, for example. We will ask the right questions, listen to your answers and find a way to reflect your advice and concerns in a consensus position that honours the OBA’s commitments as the voice of the profession, promoter of the interests of lawyers, guardians of the administration of justice and public policy leaders. We will promote the flexibility our members have long been seeking, such as the ability to issue non-voting family shares in professional corporations, while insisting on the parameters necessary to protect the public and the fundamentals of our lawyer- client relationships.
I look forward to speaking with you on this and many other issues.
Orlando Da Silva, LSM