Despite uncertain economic times, the Law Society of Upper Canada has approved a $67,000 increase to the treasurer’s honorarium.
“Just to be perfectly clear, this is the first major increase since 1993 in the treasurer’s honorarium apart from inflation,” says former LSUC treasurer Derry Millar, who served from 2008 to 2010.
“That’s quite a significant point given that the treasurer received no honorarium prior to 1983 and it only increased later to account for inflation.”
Millar authored a report recommending the current increase to the LSUC’s finance committee late last month.
In the report, he argued an LSUC treasurer’s increased working hours, the honorarium amounts paid to the heads of other law societies and legal organizations, and the need to create opportunities for small-firm and sole practitioners are all significant factors to consider in determining the proper remuneration.
“My concern is simply this,” says Millar. “Given the time required to do the job properly, unless the honorarium is increased to a more reasonable rate, the position of treasurer will be filled only by benchers from large firms who can afford to assist the treasurer or the position will be filled by a person who is independently wealthy. In either case, the individual will probably be from Toronto.”
Benchers approved an increase in the treasurer’s honorarium to $175,000 from $108,000 at Convocation last month. The increase will take effect in June 2012 during the next treasurer’s term.
According to LSUC bylaws, the treasurer is “entitled to receive an honorarium from time to time.” An honorarium is generally some level of compensation for the treasurer’s work.
The term is contested within the LSUC, however, with some benchers saying the term should instead be salary.
“I wonder at the end of the day, since I don’t see it very far in the future, that we start to appreciate that it’s a full-time job,” said Bencher Julian Falconer.
“It’s clearly compensation,” he added.
According to the law society, the distinction between the two terms is important, particularly in determining what type of compensation and just how much the treasurer should receive given that it’s largely a volunteer position.
“The treasurer’s honorarium is intended to enable the treasurer to devote more professional time to law society work by compensating, in part, the treasurer for time spent in service to the profession,” said law society CEO Malcolm Heins.
“The honorarium is also a way to increase the likelihood that benchers who are sole practitioners or members of small firms are able to run for treasurer.
The increased honorarium achieves these goals, while recognizing the volunteer nature of the position. The honorarium has never been considered as a salary or billings replacement.”
Yet not everyone agrees with this logic.
“I don’t think it’s correct to state that a lesser honorarium would preclude lawyers from smaller firms or a lawyer in sole practice from serving as a treasurer if Convocation so desired it,” said Bencher Gary Gottlieb.
“[Susan] Elliott, when she was a treasurer, I believe that the honorarium was substantially less and that did not preclude a lawyer from that practice context from serving Convocation.
I very much remember what [former treasurer] Vern Krishna said many years ago when we had the debate on bencher compensation, and he said that most of us are here, we are not here to be paid for what we do but we’re paid an honour by the profession.”
Records of the LSUC’s past treasurers show very few have come from a small firm or were sole practitioners. According to Millar, this is possibly due to factors such as the increasing number of hours the treasurer works.
“In a medium- to large-sized firm, you tend to get a lot of support,” he says.
“But in smaller firms and for sole practitioners, the honorarium becomes much more important because you don’t have that support system in place to the degree that larger-sized firms would, which makes it harder to devote the time the treasurer’s role requires and still maintain your practice without the extra financial support.”
Other benchers agree, including Krishna, who said he doesn’t “want to hear any lawyers whining about their income. 1.6 per cent of the country has an income over $150,000.
We are very privileged to belong to this profession and, anyway, I think we are privileged to have treasurers who are willing to devote 1,800 hours of their time in the service of the profession. $175,000 in absolute terms appears high, but it is actually, given the context of the profession, I think, quite modest.”
According to the LSUC, the treasurer previously committed roughly 1,500 hours of work per year fulfilling LSUC duties. Since then, the number has risen to 1,800 hours.
“Imagine 1,800 hours,” said Bencher Julian Porter. “I don’t know whether they’re taxable, but that is an immense amount of work . . . and we have to help them in any way we can.”
Despite the concerns, a look at law societies, law associations, and regulatory organizations in an April 2011 survey by the LSUC reveals that the Ontario regulator’s treasurer typically earned more than the heads of almost all of those counterparts.
The only exception was the Barreau du Québec, where the chair receives 100 per cent of Superior Court judges’ remuneration.
But the LSUC notes the discrepancy is due to differences in the organizations’ structures and size.
The Law Society of British Columbia’s president received an honorarium of $88,000 last year.
Meanwhile, the Ontario Bar Association president receives $80,000.
In 2010, Premier Dalton McGuinty earned about $209,000, roughly $34,000 more than the LSUC treasurer will receive next year.
Current Treasurer Laurie Pawlitza received an honorarium of $108,000 in 2011.