The end of April is when most Canadian taxpayers must file their annual income tax returns, to meet the deadline set by the Canada Revenue Agency. This year, it’s also around the time that the Law Society of Ontario’s 2023 Bencher election takes place (with the last one being held four years ago).
Besides their timing, what else do these things have in common, from the vantage-point of lawyers and paralegals?
They are both about money – or more specifically, financial outlay in the form of taxes, fees, and other expenditures. They impinge on the cost of doing business, and the ability to earning a living.
In the lead-up to the LSO Bencher election, there’s always good deal of discussion by candidates about fees – primarily the hefty mandatory annual membership fees imposed by the Law Society of Ontario (LSO), which is the regulator of the profession. For lawyers and paralegals in practice, these run into the thousands of dollars each year, and get increased nearly annually. It can be a daunting and prohibitive expense, especially for those newly-called to practice. And it’s all the more so in this challenging post-pandemic economy.
There’s also a second money-related issue that often gets hashed out during Bencher campaigning: The increasingly interventionist (some might say obstructionist) role of the LSO in their everyday practices. Admittedly, the LSO’s job is to regulate members and govern their conduct. But recent regulatory initiatives have considered on topics like marketing and advertising, partnership structures, caps on client billing, and unbundling of legal services. Many of these are arguably overbroad. They unduly plague and hinger lawyers’ and paralegals’ autonomy, and spark an unavoidable “ripple effect” that touches on wide segments of their practices, including:
- How they interact with clients
- How they bill for their services, and
- How they operate their law firms.
All of this has a direct influence on their fiscal bottom-line, and by extension their ability to make a living.
What’s the right approach? Here’s the simple answer: Fees and regulations should be fair, reasonable, transparent, and balanced.
When evaluating the Benchers to vote for in the upcoming election, be sure to keep these hot-topic issues in mind. Pay attention to their stated positions, what they are advocating for, and what they are prepared to accomplish. Look for those with the right values, who are committed to promoting them through their important work as elected LSO Benchers.
Because these incremental fee increases and insidious regulatory changes have many ramifications – and they are not just monetary. They also concern the future of the profession, and those who practice within it.
I’m running as your bencher candidate. Vote for me because I will keep an eye on the balance sheet, moderate LSO regulations, and improve access to justice. Learn more at russellalexander.com/bencher2023