The Profession

Bencher candidate Hicks would introduce LSO ombudsperson

By Tony Poland, Associate Editor

It’s time for the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) to change its “firing line” approach to discipline, bencher candidate and Toronto criminal lawyer Christopher Hicks tells

Hicks, founding partner of the Toronto firm Hicks Adams LLP, says the law society’s current system is “overly judgmental and punitive rather than consultative and inquiring.”

As a key part of his platform, he says he would seek to introduce an ombudsperson office that could deal with negotiation and conflict resolution.

He would also strive to develop a mentorship program to “head off problems at the pass.”

“There are some transgressions that deserve serious penalties. You know you're going to be disbarred if you steal from the client,” Hicks says. “But, there are other issues that are not life-and-death matters, and can be handled in a more progressive way.”

He says it’s important that the LSO continues to regulate the profession, but he disagrees with how it chooses to police itself. He sees the ombudsperson approach as “an alternate path” to resolving disputes between lawyers.

Hicks says there are many instances where issues can be mediated without the need for a disciplinary hearing.

“There are too many firing squad offences. It's gone too far to one side. We can enforce rules without mandatory minimum sentences,” he says. “You may have the high ground, but if you complain about me to the law society, I might be disbarred. There are other ways to approach most of these problems, most of these issues.”

With experience as a sole practitioner, as a partner in a small office, and as a senior partner in one of the largest criminal law firms in Canada, Hicks says he understands the challenges lawyers face, and he believes “a more conciliatory” approach to dealing with issues that arise can strengthen the profession.

Along with an ombudsperson office for negotiation and conflict resolution, he says he would also set up a mentorship program to provide guidance to those new to the profession.

“I think there are many lawyers who, for one reason or another, are not going with established firms,” Hicks says. “They’ve got their own practices, and they need someone they can call. They can’t walk down the hall and just ask a question when they have a concern.”

He says he would set up a network of experienced lawyers who could provide "instant and experienced” advice.

“I think the law society has to sponsor a mentoring program, and it's not only for people who skate over the line,” Hicks says.

He says young lawyers can encounter problems “that arise on the short hop and they need immediate help.”

For the program to work, mentors would be expected to respond quickly “because problems are not going to wait,” explains Hicks.

Providing young lawyers with advice could also help steer them away from taking the wrong path and facing disciplinary charges, he says.

Forty lawyer benchers will be elected — 20 from inside Toronto and 20 from outside. The deadline for voting is 5 p.m. April 30, 2019.

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