Budget, other motions, pass during Convocation
Fast and efficient are the best ways to describe the Law Society of Ontario’s October Convocation after the meeting wrapped up in less than an hour.
“I will keep my presentation relatively brief. Just so that you know, I used the word relatively brief. I did not say brief,” joked Sidney Troister, the audit and finance committee chair, as he presented the budget items as the first official items on the agenda and announced the news that affects every member: the membership fees for next year.
“The good news is that through effective financial management of our resources, savings resulting from further efficiencies implemented across the law society and the use of the fund balances, the lawyer annual fees for 2024 will decrease by $25 from $1,981 to $1,956 for lawyers. And paralegal fees will decrease by $45 from $1,035 to $990. Licensing candidate fees remain at the same level as last year,” he announced.
Troister outlined three “baskets” of funds that must be considered when setting the membership fees: the operating fund, the compensation fund for clients who need to be compensated due to the actions of their lawyers and the capital allocation fund. A fourth basket specific to lawyers is the county libraries fund, which provides support for the Legal Information and Resource Network (LiRN).
Despite a reduction in the overall membership fee, the portion of the fee that is directed into the compensation fund is going up by $15 for lawyers. (Paralegals will have this portion of their fee reduced to $9 from $10.) That increase is outside of the control of the society, said Troister, and rests entirely on the shoulders of members of the profession.
“With the lawyer component of the comp fund, over the last few years, as many have heard me say before, we have seen an increase in dollar value and the number of claims or potential claims because of the conduct of lawyers. There are more claims, and the amounts of the claims have increased. That’s an uncontrollable reality we face, and we need to have the money, the funds, to deal with the claims.”
Troister told attendees that actuarial reports and modelling helped the audit finance committee determine the needed compensation funding.
He also presented about the capital investments funding being earmarked for technology upgrades and facility infrastructure maintenance and improvements. The membership component fee for this will drop by $11 for both lawyers and paralegals.
“For 2024, the budget anticipates funding requirements for capital projects of $9.2 million to allow us to complete the transformation earlier than planned and realize the intended benefits to those we serve and to the law society sooner than expected,” he added.
In addressing the LiRN budget, Troister said, “LiRN seeks a moderate increase of $500,000 above last year’s funding requests or about five percent. For each lawyer, that amounts to $7 built into the annual fee for lawyers.” He reminded members that 80 percent of LiRN’s budget, or roughly $8.6 million, is spent on grants paid to 48 county law associations to fund their libraries.
Beyond the budget details, there were other announcements made as well. The society has chosen Fanshawe College to offer a new competency-based training program for paralegals that will enable them to provide certain legal services in family law. The program will begin in January 2025, be conducted in English and French, and be open to P1 paralegals.
Atrisha Lewis, chair of the professional development and competency committee, put forward a motion that was passed to delay the implementation of the mandatory practice essentials course for sole practitioners from January 2024 until January 2025.
She explained that “to date on the development of the course, there’s a course syllabus, there’s a course program, and a lot of the course material has been developed. However, there’s more time needed to ensure adequate testing for the course technology to ensure smooth operations. And there are also a couple of policy decisions that this bench needs to make, and given the recent election in May and the time it has taken for us to get oriented, we didn’t want to rush the decision-making on some of these policy decisions, including the timeline for completion, what incentives we might provide to licensees to complete the course.”
The only comment from attendees during the entire meeting came from bencher and tribunal member Murray Klippenstein of Klippensteins, Barristers & Solicitors, who offered his support for the motion and the course and added a bit of advice about how it should be marketed.
“This is really important and really good. It’s good for the public. It tends not to get much attention from us, and I suggest that we adopt a bit more of a positive tone in the whole presentation. I mean, even referring to it as mandatory practice essentials sends a lot of wrong messages. It’s the big bad law society making something mandatory again. And it may well be, but this is a huge platform for progress for people who really need it,” he said.
“I think if we adopt a bit more of a positive tone, which is well deserved, this is something the law society is doing to fill a gap and build up everybody.”