LSO needs 'diverse mix' of experience: bencher candidate Singer
By Tony Poland, AdvocateDaily.com Associate Editor
It’s time for a Law Society of Ontario (LSO) Convocation that “represents the profession as a whole,” bencher candidate Darryl Singer, a Toronto civil and commercial litigator, tells AdvocateDaily.com.
“What we need is a Convocation that has racialized lawyers, young lawyers, senior lawyers, and sole practitioners,” says Singer, who heads the Commercial and Civil Litigation Practice Group with Diamond & Diamond Law. “Obviously there's a place for large firms at the table as well, but we really need to see a much more diverse mix in terms of years of experience.”
Singer says he wants to be a “voice for wellness” and would work to make sure lawyers are getting the support they deserve from the law society.
The profession is falling behind when it comes to practising more efficiently, resolving the articling crisis and increasing access to justice, he says, adding the LSO is a “key influencer of government policy in this regard” and he would work to ensure it is heard at Queen’s Park.
“I've been there on the front lines on all different levels, and I understand the profession,” Singer says. “I sit on many committees and boards within the profession and in the community, so I certainly know how to work in a collaborative way.”
He says his own experiences led him to join the race for bencher, adding he wants to see a change in the way the LSO deals with mental health issues and racialized lawyers.
Singer explains that the law society pumps “an awful lot of resources” into prosecuting people who just need help to deal with their issues. He says instead of providing members with more mental health resources, the LSO is increasing the number of prosecutors and investigators at its disposal.
“I’ve had this discussion with prosecutors at the law society, and their answer is always ‘we’re here to protect the public,’” he says. “The LSO should be more proactive rather than reactive. It seems to me that if you're helping a lawyer overcome an issue, then it would certainly be beneficial to the public.
“I'm not sure why the society is so hell-bent on spending their money and time prosecuting when they could be providing help and achieving the same objectives.”
Singer says he understands the pressures of running a sole practice and struggling to pay the bills. There are lawyers under extreme pressure who suffer from addiction problems or mental health issues, he says, and when the LSO comes down on them for offences such as faulty bookkeeping, it just adds to the stress level.
“I've been there, and it's not just talk for me,” Singer says of overcoming his own struggles more than a decade ago. “I understand what it's like to not be able to manage a practice because you're suffering from, in my case, a severe addiction, which led to a mental health issue. I know what it's like when the law society turns its guns on you.”
He says instead of “heavy-handed discipline,” more should be done to provide assistance to troubled lawyers.
“I want to make it clear I'm not talking about somebody who might have embezzled a significant amount of money. I'm not talking about someone who has been deliberately fraudulent.” Singer says. “I find it interesting that, as lawyers, we're in a profession that goes out and defends people's rights and yet the whole concept of the individual’s rights within the context of a law society investigation and prosecution kind of go out the window.”
He says he believes racialized lawyers “are far more likely to get the short end of the stick in terms of the investigation” and that needs to change.
There should also be more effort to help those with mental health issues instead of spending money to promote the law society, Singer says.
“We have a ridiculous advertising campaign that accomplishes absolutely nothing, and meanwhile lawyers in crisis are not being helped,” he says. “It’s absolutely appalling to me.”
Singer says he's encouraged by the bencher candidates he has met who are running to change the mindset at the law society.
“I'm actually optimistic that we may see, for the first time in my 25-year career, a truly representative Convocation after this election,” 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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