Focus On

LSO bencher hopefuls advocate for recent calls, mental health awareness

Monday, February 04, 2019 @ 12:07 PM | By Amanda Jerome


As the deadline for bencher nominations at the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) looms, some candidates have already kicked off the race by sharing their platforms on social media. Challenges facing the legal community dominate their campaigns and include: mental health, Indigenous issues, high tuition rates at law schools and technological competence.

Signa Daum Shanks, an associate professor at Osgoode Hall, hopes to bring the perspective of a law school faculty member to the table as well as further engage the law society on Indigenous issues.

Signa Daum Shanks image

Signa Daum Shanks, Osgoode Hall law school

Daum Shanks didn’t think she might be the first Métis woman elected as a bencher until the president of the Métis Nation of Ontario pointed out the possibility. However, as the inaugural director of Osgoode’s Indigenous Outreach program she believes it is important to discuss “subjects that historically have been excluded.”

“That’s not a quick thing. It can be a little complicated, but it’s also something that people with experience have done already in other circles,” she said, adding that the law society has already been challenging itself to move forward on Indigenous issues and, as a bencher, she’d be able to contribute.

According to LSO records, there has never been a female bencher who self-identified as Métis.

Orlando Da Silva, senior Crown counsel in the Serious Fraud Office at the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, also wants to bring a different perspective to the table — one highlighting mental health.

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Orlando Da Silva, Serious Fraud Office at the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General

“When I was the Ontario Bar Association president from 2014-2015, I made it the central core of my mandate ... to try and reduce the stigma of mental illness in the legal profession recognizing that lawyers are more vulnerable than the rest of society to depression and suicide. I wanted to do that by speaking about my own lived experience and encouraging others to seek help when they need it,” he said, adding that he has major depression and attempted suicide in 2008.

“I think it’s important to have a public sector lawyer at the table. I think it’s important to have someone with an invisible disability at the table for inclusivity, diversity and equality,” he explained.

Da Silva said he hopes the profession will show the same confidence in him that his employer has shown despite his mental health disclosure.

Access to justice “obviously is on everybody’s list,” noted Da Silva, adding that high tuition rates at law schools create a barrier that contributes to wider access issues. This sentiment was echoed by Sean Robichaud, a criminal lawyer at Robichaud's Barristers & Solicitors, who entered the bencher election to tackle this issue.

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Sean Robichaud, Robichaud's Barristers & Solicitors

“My inspiration primarily comes from watching recent calls and younger lawyers struggle to try and make a name for themselves in the practice with skyrocketing fees [and] paying back tuition that they can’t afford to pay on the type of money they’re making,” he said, noting that he wants the law society to change how it approaches fees as well as restraining how much is collected from lawyers “so that they can thrive without having to be crippled by this type of excess.”

Robichaud was inspired by this same issue when he ran for bencher four years ago. He was unsuccessful at that time, but he’s committed to seeing recent calls be better represented at Convocation.

“The only representation that is happening right now in the law society is by lawyers who are already well established,” he explained, adding that the voices of students and recent calls aren’t being heard.

“I would also like to see a category for recent calls, a special category of benchers,” he noted.

The law society took on challenges faced by law students recently when it added enhancements to its lawyer licensing model. However, Robichaud thinks recent calls struggling to get on their feet is the profession’s biggest problem and the current articling setup contributes to that.

“Lawyering as we know it, or have come to know it, is not sustainable,” he said.

Robichaud believes it’s time to give up the notion that lawyers are “experts of everything” and that pushing for increased specialization will change law school exams and the articling experience.

“We have to embrace that in 2019 we should promote hyperspecialization in different areas of law. Going into the exams to test everyone on everything, it really means you’re testing everyone on nothing because none of what we’re tested on is sufficient to become a practitioner in those broad areas. But if we had, for example, a general licence and then specialized licences within, for example criminal, or immigration, or family, that would benefit not just clients, but lawyers as well in the direction of their career and pursuing their interests,” he explained.

“I’m not running to maintain the status quo,” said Robichaud, adding that he wants to see “significant change in the perspective of the law society and the way we approach lawyers and the public, not simply pay lip service to issues as they rise on a reactive basis.”

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Quinn Ross, The Ross Firm

Another prospective bencher looking to challenge the status quo is Quinn Ross, managing partner of The Ross Firm.

Ross said spending a year as the president of the Ontario Bar Association showed him the nexus between the profession and the public and where the legal community currently sits with the changes brought about by technology and access to justice.

“I’ll be focusing on how the changes in the legal marketplace and the expectations of the public we serve will shape the future of the legal profession. We have an opportunity to participate in that shaping or we can be swept away by it. To that end, if we were to boil it down into specific pieces, I’ll be looking at: entity regulation, technological competence, equality, diversity and inclusion and of course, access to justice,” he said, adding that he sees all these issues as pieces of a puzzle that fit together.

“I think that the new paradigm brought about by the communication age and technology is going to, in large measure, shape the answers to all of these questions,” he explained.

Ross sees relevance, from a business perspective, as a major challenge facing the profession.

“Over 70 per cent of legal needs experienced by the public are unmet by legal professionals,” he explained. Ross noted that people are trying to help themselves, or are seeking assistance from unregulated providers, which is “simply not acceptable.”

“We have an obligation to make ourselves available and we can do that, but we’re going to have to change the way we deliver services. We are doing things, to a great extent, like we’ve done them in the last 50-75 years. Absent bringing in e-mail and the ability to send PDFs to one another, system optimization, robotic process, automation, treating the work we do like projects as opposed to unique and custom experiences has really put us behind a lot of the other professional service deliverers,” he said, noting that he believes the legal profession can catch up..

Ross said in order to implement changes, to be relevant and credible, the legal profession needs to reflect the population it serves.

“Not only do we have to amend and adapt how we practise law, but we have to change our complexion. We have to make it reflective of those we purport to provide access to justice to, to those we purport to be the guardians of the Rule of Law. How can we as a profession purport to be that guardian of the Rule of Law, which is the equal application of all just laws to all people equally, when we don’t have equality within our own profession?” he asked.

Self-representation, and people struggling to find legal information on their own, are issues that Daum Shanks would like to focus on. The associate professor knows from personal experience that people can “fall between the cracks” of the justice system and she believes the regulator can help.

“A lot of us have our own backgrounds that could help brainstorm about medium and long-term solutions, but the regulator can be one of the places where some more robust conversations and strategies happen. I think the conversations the law society has had about paralegals is one place where some of those topics have occurred,” she explained.

Similarly, if elected, Da Silva would like to find stable funding for Pro Bono Ontario.

“I think the law society typically isolates itself or operates in isolation from other justice stakeholders and I’d really like to see us partner with other people who care about access to justice and Pro Bono Ontario and find a solution that will give it stable funding. All of these are related issues, but they’d benefit from a similar approach,” he added.

LSO bencher election nominations close Feb. 8, with voting commencing in mid-April and closing April 30. Elected benchers will hold office for a term of four years.  

Bencher candidates interviewed for this article were found via Twitter since the full nomination list has yet to be released by the LSO. This is just one article in what will be ongoing coverage of the election. If you’re running for nomination, please reach out to Amanda.Jerome@lexisnexis.ca to discuss your platform.