LSO change starts with casting a ballot: Rastin
By Tony Poland, AdvocateDaily.com Associate Editor
The best way to effect change at the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) is to cast a ballot in the bencher elections, says candidate Steve Rastin, managing partner with the Barrie, Ont. firm Rastin & Associates.
“It’s interesting that the bar is really angry right now about a lot of matters related to governance yet two-thirds of them don’t vote,” Rastin tells AdvocateDaily.com.
Rastin, who practises civil litigation throughout Ontario, believes that a strong, healthy legal profession is vital to society.
He also maintains that practitioners outside of big city centres need a place at the LSO table.
Rastin tells Law Times there is a perception that Convocation is composed of lawyers with links to large Toronto law firms and therefore its focus is on issues that may be more relevant to them.
“I was blessed to be able to develop a good perspective as president of the Trial Lawyers Association. I travelled all over the province and talked to lawyers, to paralegals and judges,” he tells the publication. “Our region is very geographically large. It is urban and rural.
“I have serious concerns. With great respect, what matters to a lawyer practising in a Bay Street firm in Toronto could very well be different from what matters to a small-town lawyer practising family law in Collingwood.”
If elected, Rastin says his priorities will be:
- the public interest
- access to justice
- effective enforcement of professional competence and professional conduct
He says during the election campaign he has heard from lawyers who are concerned with how the LSO spends members’ money.
Rastin cites an instance where the law society paid out millions after a lawyer was accused in a real estate fraud.
He says there is also anger over the LSO’s million-dollar Our Society is Your Society campaign, adding he was unhappy about its focus.
“It could have been something like ‘lawyers are here for you, helping you to get a will, sell your house,’” Rastin says. “It could have been a good news message. To me, it shows that the voices of the average working lawyer are not being adequately or fully considered.”
The public would be better served if the LSO used its resources to “aggressively step in on questionable advertising practices that are giving the profession a black eye,” he says.
“If you really wanted to improve the perception, punish lawyers for tasteless advertising," Rastin says. "We don’t need to spend millions of dollars doing that — we just need to say you can’t advertise above urinals."
He also questions the LSO's organizational budget, asking “Do the solutions that we pick have to be expensive?”
Rastin says the LSO must do a better job of serving all of its members.
“The law society can't just be about doing things to lawyers, the law society also has to be about doing things for lawyers because the profession needs to be healthy to serve the public,” he says.
That starts with having a “diverse, representative group at Convocation,” Rastin explains.
“Lawyers out in the boonies and working as sole practitioners or in small firms have to go vote," he says. "The system we have now is set up to make it much easier for large, powerful voting blocs to have a disproportionate sway. Even if you don’t vote for me, vote.”
He says the apathy among voters might have been due to the “perception among members that there's a disconnect between the working lawyer and the society.”
There is the feeling that the LSO’s main concern is protecting the public interest rather than working for its members, Rastin says.
“There is something to be said about protecting the public interest, but the two things don’t need to be in conflict with each other," he says. "A strong profession is in the public interest. I don't think that the legal profession, as a whole, feels that both pillars are being supported. They only see it as a regulatory oversight body.”
Rastin says “change is hard” and it begins with casting a ballot, noting it can be difficult to get a voice if large firms are the only ones taking part in the process.
“I can tell you it's a daunting task to be a lawyer in a small firm trying to run for bencher,” he says.
Those who feel frustrated and believe that the LSO is not supporting members, and not providing support for mental health or diversity issues, need to get involved in the process, says Rastin.
“We're not going to change the makeup of the law society if only 30 per cent of us vote,” he says. “If you don't vote then you're part of the problem, not the solution.”
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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