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Monday, November 3, 2014

SHARP DECREASE IN PARENTAL LEAVE PAYMENTS

Fewer lawyers took advantage of the Law Society of Upper Canada’s parental leave assistance program this year after the regulator restricted the program to those whose net practice income is less than $50,000 a year.

The law society’s 2015 budget projects the program will end the current year with a balance in excess of $350,000. That’s because the program paid out less money this year to assist lawyers on leave from their law practices due to childbirth than the year before.

“Likely attributable to the implementation of the means test in January 2014, payments for 2014 are significantly below previous years, $101,000 compared to $243,000 at this time last year,” according to law society budget documents.

The sharp decrease reflects “a reduction in the number of applicants for the program,” said bencher Peter Wardle, co-chairman of the law society’s audit and finance committee, during Convocation on Thursday.

In 2013, there were 54 successful applicants under the program. Until mid-October this year, there were 28 successful applicants under the new criteria.

Meanwhile, there’s some good news for lawyers in the law society’s budget for 2015: annual lawyer fees won’t be going up.

On Thursday, benchers voted to approve a budget that keeps the annual lawyer contribution at the current $1,866.

The fee freeze for 2015 is a result of money available from accumulated fund balances, according to the budget.

“The [2015] budget utilizes a combined total of $2 million (2014: $1.5 million) from accumulated fund balances to mitigate fee increases comprising $1.4 million from the lawyer fund balances and $618,000 from the paralegal fund balances,” according to budget documents. “If these funds were not utilized, lawyers’ annual fees would increase by $35 and paralegals’ by $132.”

POLL RESULTS

The results of the latest Law Times online poll are in.

According to the poll, 55 per cent of respondents feel Ontario should eliminate civil jury trials.

Some commentators, such as Law Times social justice columnist Alan Shanoff, say juries are sometimes unable to fully understand and assess complex evidence in civil matters. In a recent column, Shanoff said the majority of civil jury trials involve litigation arising from motor vehicle accidents and suggested insurers choose such proceedings for “tactical reasons.”

“One would think insurance companies would do everything in their power to avoid jury trials. Surely, they’d want to have more predictability and consistent results. But insurers know there are tactical advantages to electing jury trials,” he wrote.

Some lawyers, however, have criticized those arguments, suggesting juries are more likely to come to fair decisions than judges in civil matters.

KINGSTON LAWYER DISBARRED

The Law Society Tribunal has disbarred a lawyer for, among other things, sexually harassing a client.

Kingston, Ont., lawyer Joseph Farant sexually harassed a client “with verbal and physical contact of a sexual nature,” a hearing panel has found.

The panel also found Farant withdrew trust funds he held on behalf of a client as payment for services before he delivered an account.

Besides taking away his licence, the panel ordered Farant to pay $41,000 in costs.

CBA FLAGS CONCERNS WITH BILL C-36

The Canadian Bar Association is flagging constitutional shortcomings in the federal government’s prostitution law.

The CBA says bill C-36 undermines the spirit of the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling in Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, a case in which the top court deemed Canada’s current prostitution laws unconstitutional.

“Bill C-36 introduces a number of measures which on their face appear to comply with the central aspects of the Bedford decision,” said Ian Carter, an executive member of the CBA’s national criminal justice section.

“However, the practical application of some of these provisions undermines the spirit of the

Bedford decision.”

The CBA says the Supreme Court’s key consideration in Bedford was whether the prostitution law makes working conditions for prostitutes more dangerous and therefore violates s. 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The legislation puts limits on communications about sex work. The CBA says the provision may contravene freedom of expression guarantees in the Charter.

ONTARIANS URGED TO MAKE A WILL

The Ontario Bar Association is partnering with the Alzheimer Society of Ontario to urge Ontarians to make a will this month.

The two organizations are collaborating this month to create and publicize information about end-of-life planning.

“A recent LawPRO survey has shown that less than half of Canadians have a valid will,” said OBA president Orlando Da Silva.

“The OBA has an obligation to improve the public’s awareness of this important legal tool and to help people overcome the intimidation they may feel in starting the planning process.”

Organizers say they’ll dispel common myths about making wills and give people the resources they need to get started.

“Many are unaware of just how affordable making a will can be or of the emotional and financial cost to families that can result from the failure to make one,” said Vince De Angelis, chairman of the OBA’s trusts and estates section.

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