Last week, the Law Society voted down two motions brought by the law student organization
Though unsuccessful in two motions aimed at increasing the involvement of law students in the Law Society of Ontario’s decision-making processes, the Law Students’ Society of Ontario says it looks forward to continued engagement with the LSO and hopes to build on the relationship to increase student involvement and consultation.
At Convocation Feb. 25, the Law Society voted against further consideration of a proposal that licensing candidates be permitted to vote in Bencher elections. Seventeen voted in favour of the motion, and 34 against. With an identical vote tally, Benchers also voted against further consideration of whether a law student or licensing candidate should be a permanent member of the Professional Development and Competence Committee (PD&C).
The Law Students’ Society of Ontario worked with a number of licensees to bring the two motions to the Law Society’s Annual General Meeting, last August. In an agreement with Law Society Treasurer Teresa Donnelly, the LSSO withdrew the motions and they were taken up by the Law Society’s Priority Planning Committee, which considered the proposals and reported to convocation.
Spokespeople for the LSSO Advisory Board told Law Times the organization plans to continue working with the Law Society in the coming months, beginning with their formal attendance at an upcoming PD&C Committee meeting.
“Our proposals and the active dialogue about them at Convocation have brought the idea of proactive student participation in LSO governance to the forefront… While the results of the vote suggest there is more work to be done, the dialogue and process that has taken place over the past several months has set the foundation for a longer-term relationship between the LSO and students,” says the Advisory Board.
While the motions ultimately failed, at Convocation several Benchers spoke in their favour and said the Law Society would benefit from hearing the perspectives of young people.
“Across the board in governance, in the province of Ontario, in the country of Canada, boards of governors have figured out that a youth voice is a no-brainer,” said Bencher Julian Falconer. “Somehow… we, as a governing body, have yet to get it.”
“We're at a very difficult time, in terms of the direction the Law Society is taking. I’d say there's almost an existential battle, on issues around equity. I would like to hear what the youth have to say.”
In her comments, Bencher Chi-Kin Shi referred to the fee level licensing candidates pay the Law Society. Before tax, articling students pay the LSO $2800 to article, $1,500 to take the barrister and solicitor licensing exams and $160 to be called to the bar.
“It really hit me this kind of money that we asked from the students when they are still going to school… I thought it might be worthwhile to look into that to see if we can do better,” said Shi.
Benchers John Fagan and Sam Goldstein both raised the issue that if the Law Society were to welcome all students who would, in the future, practice in Ontario, they would have to include law students from across Canada.
“The reality is that we have a mechanism for people who are the public… Lay benchers are there to represent the people who are not lawyers,” said Goldstein.
Aside from paying fees to the Law Society, licensing and paralegal candidates are also subject to its rules and regulations and impacted by its decisions, says the LSSO Advisory Board.
“Students and young lawyers are thinking critically about the legal profession and its role in a progressing world. Now more than ever, it is important for our profession and regulator to listen to these experiences and ideas,” says the Advisory Board.
It is a matter of good governance that the Law Society appreciates the experiences of those affected by their decisions, says the Advisory Board.
“While we don’t doubt that the LSO thinks about students when making decisions, the majority of benchers are too removed from our experiences to bring a current perspective to bear.”
“Since many benchers were called, there have been significant changes to the licensing process, law school education, the demographic composition of law schools and the legal job market,” says the Advisory Board. “Other Canadian law societies have created positions reserved for student representatives on their committees and have provided that licensing candidates be able to vote. These governance models recognize the importance of student involvement in relevant aspects of professional regulation.”