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Law Society of Ontario treasurer Teresa Donnelly

‘Status quo is not an option’ as Donnelly becomes Law Society of Ontario treasurer

Friday, June 26, 2020 @ 3:55 PM | By Ian Burns

Teresa Donnelly has taken the reins as treasurer of the Law Society of Ontario, saying the time has come for a “careful and transformative shift” in the law society’s approach in regulating lawyers and paralegals while not losing sight of the law society’s duty to protect the public interest.

Donnelly, a Crown prosecutor in Goderich who has served as bencher since 2015, said as treasurer she would be “guided by the principle that upholding the public interest includes upholding the positive perception of the legal profession.”

Teresa Donnelly, LSO treasurer

“I look forward to public outreach, to working with all of our stakeholders and to listening and learning from lawyers and paralegals across the province about the important work they do in representing clients every single day,” she said. “I want to know more about the challenges those face seeking justice, as well as the challenges licensees face in advancing the cause of justice and the rule of law. I know that the public is best served by a vibrant and diverse legal profession with competent, ethical lawyers and paralegals.”

Donnelly said her goals are “broad and inclusive.”

“These difficult times have taught us that modernization, innovation and flexibility are critical components of moving the law society forward. The status quo is not an option,” she said. “Now is the time for thoughtful careful and transformative shift in the law society’s approach in regulating lawyers and paralegals.”

As treasurer, Donnelly said she would continue the law society’s work in taking a critical look at its approaches to regulating licensees.

“At the same time, we can never lose sight of our primary duty of protecting the public interest. Completing the objectives of our strategic plan will be a priority,” she said. “I will focus on our competence and conduct mandates, and I will continue to support equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives and will stand up to anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, racism or discrimination of any kind.”

Donnelly, a third-generation lawyer, was elected 31-22 over Philip Horgan, who was first elected bencher in 2019 as part of the as part of the StopSOP (Statement of Principles) Slate. Horgan assured Donnelly of his support of her leadership and moved to make her nomination as treasurer unanimous.

“While I do not feel favoured today I feel no despondency or sadness,” he said. “I enjoyed the process of getting to know many of you better and I think the experience will make me a better bencher.”

Malcolm Mercer, Former LSO treasurer

Donnelly replaces Malcolm Mercer, who was first elected to the position in 2018. As part of his remarks, Mercer pointed to the need for the law society to tackle systemic racism, an issue which has become front and central not only to society as a whole but also in the legal profession. An open letter from hundreds of law students and recent graduates circulating online is asking the law society to prove it is serious in its commitment to eliminate anti-Black racism.

“Will Convocation accept the way things happen in real life favours some people and disfavours others, especially but not only Black and Indigenous peoples?” he said. “In my view failing to admit this truth is a stain and admitting this truth would allow us to get on with the difficult work of actually addressing racial inequity rather than quarrelling about whether it exists.”

As part of regular business, benchers agreed to eight motions aimed at achieving savings and the reduction of regulatory burdens, including changes to requirements around the call to the bar, the names of licensee professional corporations and permitting Quebec lawyers to practise in Ontario on the same terms as lawyers from other provinces.

Bencher Megan Shortreed said the recommendations are “intended to remove burdens for the licensees and for the society.”

“We are always mindful that we ought not to reduce burdens at the risk of our regulatory objectives, and in this particular set of eight recommendations it is my view that there are no serious regulatory risks that would harm our public protection mandate,” she said.

A recommendation to reduce the minimum fund balance in the lawyer pool of the compensation fund from $20.5 million and $19.6 million also passed. In addition, Michael LeSage was named as bencher to replace Donnelly. LeSage practises business, insurance and personal injury law with Michael’s Law Firm, which has offices in Toronto, Hamilton and Niagara Region.

An update on the work of the priority planning committee’s bencher election reforms working group was also provided, which included a proposal to require candidates to agree to abide by the bencher code of conduct if elected. But a number of benchers raised concerns about the code of conduct, and a motion was passed to defer the consultations on the election proposals, which was due to take place during the summer.

“We know to a certainty that there will be debate and efforts to change, amend or revoke the bencher code of conduct between now and the next bencher election,” bencher John Fagan said. “Let’s find out whether we are going to have this same bencher code before we ask candidates for bencher to sign declarations of adherence to it.”

The law society’s access to justice committee has also issued a call for comment on a proposed model for a family legal service provider (FLSP) licence, which is part of the law society’s family law action plan. The law society is also seeking feedback from accredited colleges and universities for the delivery of an educational training program to support the licence. Comments for both may be submitted until Nov. 30.

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