New Law Society of Upper Canada Treasurer Gavin MacKenzie has got hiswork cut out for him over the months ahead, with plans to tackle solepractitioner and small firm lawyer issues as well as paralegalregulation.
MacKenzie was elected late last month — by a vote of 32-26 over acting treasurer Clayton Ruby — and sat down with Law Times in the treasurer's office, his new digs for the next four months, to discuss the issues he will be dealing with as treasurer.
"I'm overwhelmed. I'm just enormously, deeply honoured," he says. "The treasurer of the law society is elected by elected members of the profession and the public representatives appointed by the government as well as the former treasurers of the law society and to be elected by your peers in that way is just an enormous honour."
MacKenzie, a bencher since 1995, is a partner at the Toronto office of Heenan Blaikie LLP, with his practice focused on professional liability and discipline litigation, class actions, and general civil and commercial litigation.
He's no stranger to law society issues, currently serving as chairman of the tribunals composition task force, vice-chairman of the professional development, competence, and admissions committee, and a member of the proceedings authorization committee. He has also served as the chairman of the professional regulation committee.
First up on Convocation's agenda will be debate surrounding the recommendations of the sole practitioners and small firms task force, which was sent out for consultation last year.
"The report will be coming back before Convocation I expect very soon. Certainly this spring we'll have an opportunity to debate it further," he says.
MacKenzie says he sees this as a very important issue, considering that more than half of Ontario's 36,000 lawyers are sole practitioners or in firms with fewer than three lawyers.
"I see it as an access-to-justice issue. The vast majority of legal services that are performed for members of the public in Ontario, and particularly individuals in small businesses and citizens from lower incomes, are performed by sole practitioners and small firm lawyers, largely in counties and towns across the province," he says.
"Unless the sole practitioners and small firm lawyers across the province thrive and unless we're able to continue to attract articling students and young lawyers in the small communities, the public really isn't going to be served adequately."
Convocation will also be keeping its eye on bill 14, the proposed provincial access-to-justice act, which has received second reading in the Legislature. The act will see the law society serve as regulator for all legal services, including paralegals. MacKenzie says this new role will present an enormous opportunity for the law society but also enormous challenges.
"It won't be easy but I think it will have a transformative effect on the way we do business at the law society. It will have implications beyond paralegals. I think we're really very fortunate because we've seen in other jurisdictions, in Great Britain and in Australia and New Zealand, that self-governing professions and the legal profession specifically, have lost the right to self-government for a variety of reasons. . . .
"I think it's a tremendous opportunity for the law society to have an attorney general who has not created a different organization to regulate other legal service providers but rather has recognized that the law society has been here for 209 years now.
"It's done a very commendable job in regulating lawyers and is the obvious body to regulate legal service providers generally."
The treasurer's election was held at February's Convocation to fill the hole left by former treasurer George D. Hunter's abrupt resignation late last year. Ruby, as chairman of the finance committee, stepped in as acting treasurer until a date for the treasurer's election could be set.
MacKenzie's term will last until June, when a new election will be held if another candidate comes forward.
MacKenzie immediately took the helm of Convocation after being elected, thanked Ruby for his hard work as acting treasurer, and promised benchers, "I will do everything to be worthy of your support."
Two new benchers were also elected to fill vacancies at February's Convocation. Oak-ville's Paul J. Henderson will fill the seat left by Peter Borque's appointment to the Ontario Court of Justice and Janet E. Minor, counsel for the Ministry of the Attorney General, will fill the bencher seat left by MacKenzie.