Law Society- Practice of Law in Ontario is in Need of a Major Fix

2014-06-09 16:08:25

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A year of impending change”. That’s the lead sentence on page 1of the Law Society of Upper Canada’s (LSUC) recently released 2012 Annual Report.(www.lsuc.on.ca/annualreport/). And so it has to be. LSUC Treasurer (Chair) Thomas Conway notes that there are now a total of 50,000 practicing lawyers and independent paralegals in Ontario. The market for the traditional practice of law is crowded. Conway notes that this has impacted on the ability of aspiring lawyers to gain entry to the profession through the traditional articling route. 

“As a result, in 2012 there were almost 15% of the graduating class is still looking for an articling position.”

Of course, that’s just the official number. When you add on the number of graduates being forced into a form of servitude to work for free for a law firm for a year in exchange for the signing off on articles that figure is well above 20%. One of the immediate impending changes will be the launching of the “Law Practice Program”(LPP) . This skills- focused professional development program delivered by Ryerson University, rather than a law school, will be an alternative to articling.

The new pathway will make it easier to pursue a career in areas like family law, criminal law, and immigration law that are typically underrepresented in the traditional articling pathway”.

Whew! JIT (Just in time) before an enterprising media source published an expose on how a profession dedicated to protecting the rights of others was running roughshod over its own in taking advantage of the licensing requirement for articling to wring free labour out of newly minted law school graduates.

The independent Paralegal market is looking crowded. A politically oriented education/regulatory scheme to bring at the time of its implementation an estimated 2,000 unregulated independent paralegals under the auspices of the law society and limit their scope of practice to motor vehicle offences, small claims court and landlord tenant disputes has now churned out 5,000 practitioners who are chomping at the bit to broaden the scope of their practice. Broadening that scope would enable them to directly compete with lawyers and offer consumers alternatives; an anathema for a profession wedded to a monopoly model of self-regulation. Although the annual report pays lip service to the need to for expansion of the role and function of independent paralegals, look for a long-term stall by the law society on this much needed reform in the legal services marketplace.

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Good News for Lawyers – Unbundling is Gaining Traction

The law society is embracing the “unbundling of legal services” It’s come to the realization that in what is now the information age consumers, in many instances, have both the competence and commitment to look at personally designing and delivering customized packages of services. Consumers recognize that the ideal package oftentimes requires a limited range of services by a lawyer. However, if it’s all or nothing than as is being demonstrated in family law it’s nothing is so far as retaining a lawyer is concerned. With an estimated two thirds of family law consumers choosing to self-represent and even self-litigate rather than fork out the “big bucks” for a lawyer embracing unbundling is a tacit acknowledgement by the law society that, at least in consumer focused areas of law, it’s now longer a seller’s market. It’s now a buyer’s market in which they need to be competitive in bidding for pieces of the pie.

Alternative Business Structure (ABS) Model is Coming

WHEW!!!! This really “JIT” with the failure of national law firm Heenan Blaikie illustrating that law firms are information technology intensive businesses that require a modern day management and financial structure

Priority 5: Business structures/law firm financing

The Law Society created an Alternative Business Structures (ABS) Working Group in 2012 to explore alternative ways of providing legal services, potential new financing arrangements and the possible regulatory challenges that may arise. The group is closely examining trends, such as globalization, technology and the pressure to reduce the cost of legal services, as well as observing developments in other jurisdictions that may impact the Canadian legal marketplace.