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Geoff Pollock

LSO decision on practice fees sends ‘terrible’ message to profession: bencher

Friday, September 25, 2020 @ 9:37 AM | By Ian Burns


The Law Society of Ontario (LSO) benchers have decided to defer a motion to give lawyers and paralegals a cut in the practice fees to help deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, a move being called condescending by the lawyer who brought it forward.

Benchers voted 27-25 to table Geoff Pollock’s motion at the Sept. 24 Convocation, which would have implemented an across the board 25 per cent cut in fees for lawyers and paralegals in 2021. Pollock said he has received “countless” e-mails, phone calls and tweets asking for help, and said he felt any revenue loss occurring from the fee cut could be enhanced by other measures such as tapping into the approximately $15 million which has been returned to the law society from insurance provider LawPRO.

Geoff Pollock, LSO bencher

“I have heard it said that this money should be saved for a rainy day. Well, the profession is enduring a category five hurricane,” he said. “It is demanded, and it is deserved. The entire purpose of this motion is to bring meaningful help to the professions to signal to them help is on the way and reinforcements are arriving.”

Paralegal bencher Marian Lippa, who seconded the motion, said many lawyers and paralegals in Ontario are suffering from reduced revenues — in some cases going down to zero.

“Some benchers believe budget changes should be structural in nature and accomplished on a slow but steady basis over several years with sustainable costs and cuts. Others believe we should implement one-time measures regardless of which approach is superior,” she said. “We need to act now to protect the most vulnerable in our profession.”

But audit and finance committee chair Joseph Groia, who moved the motion to table Pollock’s proposal, said a 25 per cent fee reduction has already been on the committee’s agenda “and I have no doubt it will be again.”

Joseph Groia, chair, LSO’s audit and finance committee

“In these uncertain times real leadership must be based on thoughtful, disciplined and reasoned approaches to important problems. We need to be making wise decisions, not politically expedient ones,” he said. “As a matter of good corporate governance before we debate and assess proposals like this, we owe it to ourselves and to our professions to do our homework.”

After the vote, Pollock expressed his disappointment not only with his motion being tabled but also the fact it was not even debated by benchers.

“I think that sends a terrible message to the profession that the law society knows better than you and you are not equipped to understand what we are doing or even have an opinion on it,” he said. “It is frankly a very condescending attitude — they muted the voice of benchers, and I know the profession is going to be incredibly disappointed.”

Groia also revealed the law society’s year-to-date financial results, showing a surplus of $2.9 million in the lawyer and paralegal general fund, which was an improvement over the numbers seen in the financial reports as of the end of June. LawPRO also showed itself to be in a positive financial situation.

“However, we will not be out of the woods so to speak until the end of the year as licensees still have the opportunity to change their practising status and reduce their annual fees,” he said.

Benchers also moved treasurer elections online on a permanent basis, which had been done on an interim basis due to coronavirus restrictions. And law society CEO Diana Miles provided a presentation on the law society’s response to the pandemic, which includes moving to online licensing examinations, digitizing of forms and new paperless processes in membership services.

“The team effort has been tremendous across the organization, but these unusual circumstances have also resulted in some very difficult decisions and impacts on our employees, including layoffs and employment terminations, in our efforts to ensure the sustainability of our organization and recognize the pressures on licensees and the public while still supporting the maintenance of completion of our mandated obligations,” she said.

The next Convocation is scheduled for Oct. 22.

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