Editorial: ABS in the spotlight

With the campaign for the Law Society of Upper Canada bencher elections set to begin with the deadline for nominations on Feb. 13, the regulator already has one-high profile candidate seeking a seat at the governing table: Toronto lawyer Joe Groia.

It’s a provocative move by Groia given his ongoing disciplinary battle with the law society over the civility issue. If he becomes a bencher, there certainly could be some awkward situations as he and the regulator continue to litigate at the Ontario Court of Appeal and, potentially, beyond.

His candidacy is welcome, however, given his unique experience at the centre of the civility debate. While the regulator has disciplined him, the issue wasn’t over his competence as a lawyer or any wrongdoing against clients. Rather, the case is about the difficult question of where to draw the line between lawyers’ duties as officers of the court and their obligations to fearlessly represent their clients.

As the election gets underway, Groia is right about one thing: there are other priorities at stake besides the civility issue. Certainly, alternative business structures will be a key question for the regulator in the coming months. Already, of course, we’ve seen organizations such as the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association coming out strongly against alternative business structures. Some personal injury lawyers say they won’t do anything for access to justice and suggest they’ll merely create an opening for conglomerates to insert themselves into their field and take over law firms.

Another perspective came in a recent submission to the law society on the issue from Canadian Defence Lawyers, an organization representing counsel on the insurance defence side. The submission noted there has already been lots of change in insurance defence with different types of providers taking on various aspects of the work and suggested that while the organization doesn’t oppose innovation in the delivery of legal services, issues such as the risk of marginalizing lawyers into technicians, the sustainability of law practices, and evaluating the loss of independence and conflict of interest should be among the considerations. It’s a measured perspective and a welcome addition to a debate all bencher candidates should be ready to engage in and offer their stance on.

For more, see "Groia to continue court battle, hopes to make change as bencher."
Glenn Kauth

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