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LSO needs to be more progressive: Hicks

Toronto criminal lawyer and bencher candidate Christopher Hicks tells AdvocateDaily.com he would like to see the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) take a more collaborative and progressive approach to self-governance.

Hicks, founding partner of the Toronto firm Hicks Adams LLP, says the LSO doesn’t need to be seen as “avenging angels” when it comes to dealing with its members.

“We hope for the better, but it just seems we need a different approach,” he says. “We have to govern ourselves because we are a self-regulating profession, so you must have rules and make sure people conform to them. But when there's a problem, I don't think a firing squad is the only solution.” 

He says his experience as a sole practitioner, a partner is a small office, and a senior partner in one of the largest criminal law firms in Canada gives him “an understanding of the professional and administrative demands and pressures of the practice of law.”

“I think I have enough experience, and I am senior enough that I can make a contribution,” Hicks says. “I can understand people’s practice issues. Because my clients have taken me to various jurisdictions across the province, I have gotten to know people and understand what the problems and challenges are in big and small urban centres. I have a different perspective, maybe not unique, but one that not everybody has.

“The bar is changing in terms of demographics. It reflects the community, and we all know how diverse the population is in Toronto and Ontario, so we have to make sure we are giving full consideration to that as well.”

A heavy-handed approach to disciplining lawyers doesn’t necessarily work, Hicks says, suggesting, “consultation, mentoring, and rehabilitation should be the primary factors in our pursuit of high professional standards.” 

“Disbarment for misusing the trust funds of clients or betraying solicitor-client privilege is something you cannot change, but there are many other transgressions that could be handled in different ways,” Hicks explains. “There has to be more consultation, increased mentoring, more moderate inquiries, and better rehabilitation of people.”

A new way of thinking is essential, he says.

“I just know that in some of the places where I travel people hate the law society and that must change,” Hicks says. “They hate and fear them, and they have no respect for them. There has to be another method to settle disputes.”

He proposes the implementation of an ombudsmen system to resolve conflicts. And, he further suggests, rather than reporting someone to the LSO where sanctions could be imposed, lawyers could bring financial disputes, for example, to an ombudsman to negotiate a settlement.

“I think there might be some softer approach, a more conciliatory way to resolve differences between lawyers,” Hicks says. “A formal complaint to the law society might lead to harsher punishment than lawyers want to inflict upon one another, so this makes perfect sense.”

He says the approach might also work with problems faced by women in the profession.

“How female members of the bar are treated by firms large and small is becoming more and more of an issue,” Hicks says.

"There are incidents that go on untold where women are harassed in the workplace physically and sexually,” he says, and having an ombudsman would give victims another forum to seek a solution.

Hicks says the law society should also address maternity leave concerns — not with the thought of the enforcement of standards, but with the intent of providing guidance to firms that employ women to ensure they return to the profession.

Another issue he sees on the horizon is changing technology, which threatens to have an impact on privacy. He notes “how we protect our clients' privacy and solicitor-client privilege” is important.

“We have to make sure that our electronic filing is secure,” Hicks says. “It’s not going to be perfect, but there has to be standards which people must meet.”

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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