LSUC member fees top $1,500 for 2006

Lawyers in Ontario can expect to pay increased LawSociety of Upper Canada membership fees in 2006, after benchers approved a4.7-per-cent increase to invest in regulatory programs and support libraryservices.

The increase of $68 per member will bring the total membership fee to $1,509 next year. Combined with the LawPro base premium, the 31,000 lawyers in the province will be paying an average of $4,209 each.

"The need for an increase is primarily as a result of additional resources for the law society's regulatory division," says Malcolm Heins, LSUC's chief executive officer, noting that membership fees have been reduced 19 per cent over the last four years.

The 2006 annual fee of $1,509 breaks down as follows:

· general membership fee increase of $55, to $1,015 from $960
· county law library levy increase of $13 to $219 from $206
· compensation fund unchanged at $200
· capital and technology levy unchanged at $75

The 2006 draft budget was presented to Convocation on Oct. 20 with little debate — except over the funding of LibraryCo. In the draft, LibraryCo's levy was to remain at $206 and the finance committee recommended that it use more than $400,000 of its projected $970,000 reserve to make up the difference.

"LibraryCo decided that it will present a budget that did not involve using its — I use the word reserve or surplus — to reduce the amount of fees our members will be charged for LibraryCo in the levy," said Clayton Ruby, chairman of the finance committee. "That's the decision they made. It's not the last word on the subject.

"We are responsible for deciding what the levy is for LibraryCo. We did not tinker with the substance of what they proposed. All we've said for this year is we would like to see either a change in your operation, your choice, or utilization of your reserve of about $1 million to lower the amount of money we have to charge our members this year. The question is, does that money do any good sitting in LibraryCo, that $1 million, or is it better utilized reducing the fee for our members?"

By a close vote of 22-18, Convocation disagreed with Ruby's assessment and voted to leave the reserve alone, increasing the LibraryCo levy by $13 per member to meet LibraryCo's 2006 budget.

"LibraryCo has recognized from the outset, as has the County and District Law Presidents' Association and has the law society, I believe, that we've been living in a bit of a dream world, and we've been talking about the amount slightly in excess of $200 that each year has been allocated for the purpose of funding libraries through member levies because those levies of slightly in excess of $200 a year simply do not cover the expenses of providing services across the province to members," said Bencher Gavin MacKenzie, chairman of LibraryCo.

He said if LibraryCo kept using the reserve for operating expenses, it would be exhausted by approximately 2007, at which time it would be faced either with the need for a dramatic fee increase or a dramatic cutback in services.

Bencher Judith Potter said part of the problem is that some benchers aren't familiar with LibraryCo and how it services many lawyers in the province outside the Greater Toronto Area.

"I see eye glazing around the table, and when we talk about numbers and figures, it's not of major interest, although it is of major importance to a lot of the people in this room," she said.

Hamilton's Gerald Swaye, who is on both the finance committee and LibraryCo board, said he was in a difficult and unenviable position.

"Respectfully I would think, to me it's very, very obvious that the profession wants to pay an increase, and that increase goes to LibraryCo, so we can have that desktop delivery. We can have our books. We can have our libraries because that's competence," he said.

"And as regulators, we should be saying this is wonderful because we want to make sure that our lawyers have got the cutting edge in the library system because without our books, without our computers, without all of the stuff that LibraryCo is doing, we may as well fold our tents because things are happening out there, folks. It's just not dollars and cents."

Bencher Larry Banack said maintaining the levy and asking LibraryCo to dip into its reserve would not affect library service.

LibraryCo runs 48 county and district law libraries across the province: five large regional law libraries, 16 area medium-sized libraries, and 27 small local libraries.

Most libraries are staffed on a part-time basis and 16 are staffed on a full-time basis. The staff report to the local county law associations.

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