Class Action, The Profession

Bencher candidate Lesage wants LSO to be more efficient

By Tony Poland, Associate Editor

Bencher candidate Michael Lesage says he would like to see the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) “become more effective in a much more limited sphere.”

Lesage tells that LSO membership fees have risen to an unreasonable level while the society has adopted a “very expansive mission statement on the backs of their member lawyers.”

“The fees keep going up. They're higher than doctor fees, teacher fees, and dentist fees and I'm pretty sure all of those groups have better salary and benefits on average than lawyers,” he says.

Lesage says he would prefer to see the law society scale back on ambitious projects and become more efficient.

“They have basically found excessive solutions to whatever issues they’ve encountered,” he says. “If their idea is to promote justice within the scope of the universe then that's an unlimited goal. It certainly might be laudable, but I don't think it's financially feasible for Ontario’s lawyers to finance an open-ended goal.”

Lesage, who practises insurance and business law, personal injury, malpractice, and other liabilities at Michael’s Law Firm, says if elected he will:

  • push for common-sense solutions, such as using technology to allow lawyers to save time and money
  • encourage belt-tightening at the LSO
  • advocate for tougher bar exams
  • endeavour to keep bad ideas from Convocation at Convocation by insisting on further committee study and more discussion and debate

High membership fees, coupled with rising insurance rates and other overhead expenses, are crippling sole practitioners, Lesage says.

“Small practices are shrinking,” he says. “I really don't think that in the current environment that it makes sense as a business model.”

Lesage says he would like to see the LSO gradually reduce their fees and “then adjust the budget accordingly with the realization that they cannot effectively try to be all things to all people.”

“The law society needs to be a lot more focused. I've heard from a number of lawyers who would have preferred to have their fees lowered by $20 or $30 this year and have the law society just skip out on the whole $1.2-million Our Society is Your Society campaign,” he says. “I'm sure it's great for the advertising firm that got the business, but I think it's one more example of an unwise use of limited resources.”

He says the first order of business should be to determine “how much the fees are being reduced and then look at what the budget can support.”

“I think lawyers have to be cautious of electing benchers who are proposing programs or ideas that would result in higher fees,” Lesage says.

Another issue Lesage says he would like to tackle on behalf of small practitioners is the need for cost insurance.

It was once possible to purchase cost protection on a few files a year, which worked well for him in his varied practice, he says. However, that is no longer the case, and small firms that are well below the insurance provider's minimum threshold find themselves without coverage.

Lesage says the only choice is to team up with a larger firm on files that small practitioners could handle themselves and split the fees, or run the file without insurance and expose the client to financial risk.

Sending clients to larger firms “is obviously not sustainable as a business model,” he says.

“So to the extent that the law society wants members of the public to have access to lawyers, I think they need to spend more time figuring out how to make that business sustainable,” Lesage says.

A logical solution would be to pool the small practitioners together under the LSO umbrella to work with insurance providers,” he says.

“Knowing the insurance industry as I do I'm pretty sure that many providers would say, ‘we can make money off of this, so we're going to put a deal together to address those practitioners," Lesage 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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