When voting opens for the 2019 Law Society of Ontario Bencher Election in mid-April, eligible voters will have a robust roster of 128 lawyer candidates, nearly half of whom are OBA members, from which to choose. The sheer size and scope of the slate make getting up to speed on what each of these candidates brings to the table a daunting task. If you’re tempted to make your selections based on name recognition alone, or worse, to opt out of voting altogether, you’ll be doing yourself, your profession, and the public a disservice. With issues like access to justice, the articling crisis, and the competency and reputation of lawyers looming large, participating in the election is not only your opportunity to effect improvements, it is your responsibility.
Lawyers elected to Convocation this spring will be in a position to influence governance, regulation and the provision of legal services to the public for a full four years, so it’s critical to consider how candidates will effectively serve in the role when it comes to tackling the most pressing concerns, according to Ivan Merrow, associate at Miller Thomson LLP and executive member of the OBA’s Young Lawyers Division.
“Now is the time to send a message on important issues impacting how legal services are delivered in Ontario,” says Merrow. “Here are just a few: pathways to licensing, improving access to justice, legal service delivery models, the statement of principles, the cost of legal education, mental health, reconciliation and indigenous communities, diversity and inclusiveness, and scope of practice of paralegals and non-licensees.”
In addition to valuing candidates who are informed on the issues, members surveyed by the OBA desire benchers who are committed, open-minded and reflective. “Voting in the bencher election is how we make sure those who govern our profession in the public interest are representative of the communities we serve,” says Jean-Frédéric (J-F) Hübsch, counsel for the Ontario Ombudsman and member of the OBA Education Law Executive.
As a voter, you can do your part to ensure that Convocation not only represents a diverse public, but a diverse profession that includes lawyers from an array of backgrounds and electoral regions, and who practice in a relevant range of practice areas and settings. As one candidate for bencher told us, “Without proper representation in Convocation, Convocation cannot pass informed, educated decisions and rules that will affect the Bar and so that lawyers can properly serve the public.”
These decisions carry weight, according to David McRobert, an environmental lawyer and long-time OBA member. McRobert, who has always voted in the elections for Convocation – “the linchpin at the heart of self-regulation for Ontario's legal professionals” – and who launched his own campaign for bencher in 2011, has a unique perspective on the reasons for voting and the importance of the bencher role.
For one thing, says McRobert, “OBA members usually are knowledgeable and engaged leaders in the profession and well positioned to influence bencher elections and debates about key issues.” He has seen OBA members successfully lobby Convocation to establish a committee to develop a draft regulatory framework that would enable lawyers to provide legal services through registered, civil society organizations, such as not-for-profit organizations to the clients of those organizations.
He, along with other members of the OBA’s Aboriginal Law Section, also participated in taskforce efforts to encourage Convocation to review how LSO staff and benchers were handling the sensitive task of reviewing previous contact between potential licencees and the criminal justice system because, as McRobert says, “we became aware of evidence that racialized applicants might be facing discrimination.”
He even saw some of the measures he advocated for in his own campaign come to fruition, such as expanding opportunities for female, LGBTQ, indigenous and racialized lawyers and updating the name of the LSUC to the Law Society of Ontario.
“I am encouraged by the LSO's willingness to adjust its vision and consider new ideas,” says McRobert, “but we need to make sure they hear our diverse voices and keep those ideas flowing.” Your vote can produce positive momentum.
View profiles of OBA-member candidates for bencher in our online Voter's Guide.