Must-Read: A Message from the NSRLP to Voters in the LSUC ElectionNSRLP
Very shortly now, (April 30), votes will be cast and counted in the Law Society of Upper Canada’s 2015 Benchers Election. By Friday 40 Benchers will have been either elected or re-elected.
At NSRLP, we have received numerous bulletins from candidates, many of which refer to Access to Justice issues. The recent establishment of the LSUC Treasurer’s Action Group, which we hope will show leadership and give clear direction, institutionally reinforces this trend.
Some candidate “manifestos” encourage a sense that A2J is finally emerging from the “shadows” to become a significant issue for the new Convocation, both as a matter of genuine concern and as a critical “buzz term” in this election.
Given the historical lack of attention to, and action on, what is now a crisis in access to legal services for ordinary Ontarians, with self-represented parties at almost 80% in some urban family courts, we welcome either of these rationales for talking up A2J at Convocation.
But a closer look at how Bencher candidates frame “access to justice” in their manifestos (https://www.lsuc.on.ca/uploadedFiles/bencher-election-2015-voting-guide.pdf, plus many other on-line solicitations) illustrates the gap between how the legal profession understands these issues, and what is critical to the public.
Of course, in a Bencher election, only lawyers have votes.
Without wanting to pour cold water on the efforts of some candidates to raise awareness about A2J, we ask you to take a few minutes on the following exercise before casting your vote.
Framing the Issues
In the left hand column of the table below are 5 of the specific A2J issues that prospective Benchers raise in their manifestos, as these are consistently framed. These are without doubt important issues for the profession – moreover the issues of tolerance and prejudice described in # 4 and #5 are important for many members of the public also. What is significant is that the way these five issues are framed by Bencher candidates is very different from what we find to be most important to justice system users.
And so, in the right hand column, we present the same 5 issues framed from the perspective of the public from whom we have collected data over the last three and a half years (we have resisted the temptation to add other A2J issues that are not mentioned anywhere in the manifestos which we know are critically important to justice system users, because in a Bencher election the profession gets to name the issues).
There are two strikingly different discourses here. One is by its nature inward-looking – the other a more systemic and ultimately practical framing from the perspective of system users.
Five A2J Issues
If you have a vote in this important election, and you are concerned about Access to Justice in Ontario, please look at the table below and ask yourself this question:
Which Bencher candidates do you believe are courageous and insightful enough to shift the debate towards a framing of the A2J issues that can reflect both the concerns of the profession and the interests of the public?
|Bencher A2J Issue||SRL/ Public A2J Issue|
|1. Alternative business structures or ABS. Should non-lawyers be allowed a share in law firms? Should the legal profession facilitate better collaboration in service delivery with other professionals?||The most practically significant “business structure” issue for the public (by far) is access to unbundled legal services. When you cannot afford full representation, are you offered an option that enables you to stay within your means but still receive assistance from a lawyer?|
|2. Articling reform and reducing law school tuition – continuing debate over the new APP program and calls to broaden access to law school by reducing fees.||By the end of their training and education, are lawyers adequately prepared to work in partnership with and listen to 21st century consumers – and how many lawyers serving what types of clients do we actually need?|
|3. Paralegals [i]. Paralegal regulation is fiercely contentious at Convocation, and none of the manifestos offer concrete proposals to “facilitate greater access to justice through broadening of the scope of permissible paralegal practice” (Morris, 2012)||If lawyers cannot provide affordable accessible services, please can others without full legal qualifications be permitted to assist (family and other) litigants?|
|4. Recognition of Trinity Western law school – should the LSUC withhold recognition from a school that explicitly opposes any divergence from heterosexuality?||Clients want lawyers who will accept them as they are, listen to them and respect them as individuals.|
|5. Diversity in the profession (both entry and retention). How can the profession act to confront and reduce discrimination and to remove systemic barriers to women and minorities rising in the profession?||Can clients find lawyers who can relate to them and whom they can relate to? Will diversifying the profession mean sufficient competent lawyers who want to work on the problems of ordinary people, wherever they live in Ontario?|
[i] Of 95 candidate manifestos, just 4 mention any specific policy directions for managing paralegal services.