Michael Ford (post until Oct. 31/19)
Civil Litigation, The Profession

Lesage: LSO bencher structure 'too unwieldy'

Discussions to cut the number of Law Society of Ontario (LSO) benchers is a long overdue move that may lead to more efficiencies across the board, Toronto civil litigator Michael Lesage tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“As it stands there are 100 benchers, which is quite unworkable,” he says. “No matter how well-intentioned each person is, trying to come to a consensus among 100 people is really not the right way to do it.”

The Law Times reports that the LSO is reviewing how its system of benchers, who govern the organization, is structured.

“Of the law society’s 100 benchers, 40 are elected lawyers, five are elected paralegals and eight are appointed lay benchers,” the article notes. “The rest include ex-officio benchers and honorary benchers.

“There are 60 benchers who can currently speak and vote at their monthly meeting, Convocation, while the rest of the group has varying speaking and voting rights,” it continues.

Lesage, who practises insurance, business law, personal injury, malpractice and other liabilities at Michael’s Law Firm, has long been frustrated with the LSO’s pace in bringing more streamlined and standard practices to the legal profession.

“The joke — and I say this firmly tongue-in-cheek — is that the LSO has come up with a plan to standardize tablets for use by the profession in court. They’ve got it down to wood or stone,” he quips.

“But in all seriousness, there are so many things the LSO could be doing to move towards a more digitally integrated practice of law by setting standards, processes and procedures in the context of the modern age.

“I think part of the problem is that the bencher structure is just too unwieldy,” he adds.

Lesage questions whether benchers are representative of the profession itself, arguing that they seem to spend more time on soft issues like mission statements and not enough time improving things for practising lawyers and, ultimately, paying clients.

“Beyond electronic filing of documents, we need standardized documents and easier ways to reach agreements on facts and statements contained within to speed up the process,” Lesage says. “There needs to be a standard way to assemble documents because right now it takes a huge amount of time.”

Lesage, who has practised as a qualified attorney in the United States, says, by comparison, the U.S. federal courts have a 20-page booklet that outlines the rules of evidence and is far less complicated than the Ontario regime.

“At the end of the day, the LSO needs to arrive at a workable number of benchers, which could be closer to 20,” he says. “There are many jurisdictions across Canada and the U.S. which regulate the legal profession who can do this with a smaller number and still tackle issues like diversity and access to justice.”

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