Editorial: ABS not the only issue

With less than two weeks to go, there have been lots of interesting developments in the Law Society of Upper Canada bencher election campaign.

Blaney McMurtry LLP’s Henry Chang, for example, has taken to crowdfunding for financial support for his candidacy. As of last week, he had raised more than $1,500 of his $2,000 goal on the crowdfunding web site gofundme.com.

Key issues in the campaign have included the LSUC’s accreditation decision in relation to Trinity Western University. The Christian Legal Fellowship, for example, sent candidates a survey asking them whether they would have voted for accreditation if they had been a bencher last year.

Most notable, however, has been the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association’s survey of candidates about their views on alternative business structures. The association reportedly asked candidates just one question — do they support alternative business structures — and has since released a voting guide urging lawyers to vote on the basis of that issue. A vocal opponent of alternative business structures, the association is endorsing 65 candidates who agree with it on that issue.

On the one hand, there’s a fair argument that the association is essentially cajoling candidates into falling into line with its position. An organization of more than 1,500 lawyers, law clerks, and articling and law students, the association is influential. And with its loud opposition to alternative business structures, it’s easy to see how its approach could sway many candidates on the issue.

On the other hand, this is an election and the association has a right to fight aggressively for its position. In fact, it’s good to see a fairly vibrant campaign given the concerns about low voter turnout. It seems this election is in many ways turning into a referendum on alternative business structures.

That said, it would be unfortunate to see the election turn on that issue only. Voting on that basis would probably lead to the defeat of many excellent candidates who arguably have good intentions in advocating for reform of legal business.

The profession has yet to fully explore and study ideas such as non-lawyer ownership of law firms and it would be a shame to essentially cut the discussions off through the bencher vote. The law society still has plenty of time before it votes on the issue, so let’s hope lawyers will assess candidates on the basis of the other issues at stake — including things like the future of the Law Practice Program — rather than just alternative business structures. And, most importantly, let’s hope more people take the opportunity to vote.
Glenn Kauth

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