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LSO decision to end fees exemption for retired seniors unfair | Stephen Sharzer

Thursday, October 01, 2020 @ 2:49 PM | By Stephen Sharzer

Stephen Sharzer %>
Stephen Sharzer
On Aug. 6, Convocation of the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) decided in principle to eliminate the exemption from fees for retired members over the age of 65. If adopted, the new fees for older licensees will jump from zero to either $583.65 or $1,167.39. The rationale for this dramatic increase is slender at best and would leave LSO retirees paying far higher fees than their peers in any other law society in Canada.

This revenue raiser is offensive to those who have served the profession and public well, and will likely backfire as affected seniors on fixed incomes give up their memberships rather than pay high fees for limited or no services.

Convocation still needs to amend the bylaws to give effect to this change, so there is still time to reverse this retrograde measure.

Consideration of the Report of the Priority Planning Committee (the report) appears to have happened rather quickly. That the matter was under review was not communicated to LSO members, including those directly affected, i.e. retired members. The lack of consultation is particularly concerning as retired members do not have the same means as active members of the profession to communicate, discuss this matter and provide input.

The analysis and rationale for the decision, as set out in the report, are not well-grounded. The report suggests that the issue is unfairness to those in similar circumstances who are under the age of 65. However, it is not certain why a non-practising retired lawyer, even under the age of 65, should also not be exempt. Thus, pleading the issue as a matter of fairness to those under the age of 65 really does not withstand scrutiny.

The real rationale appears to be to raise additional revenue; indeed, the report rationale begins: “It is conservatively estimated that removing this exemption would generate approximately $2 million in budgeted revenue per annum.”

Many of those who have or would benefit from the exemption practised law for many years and dutifully paid their fees. Now, however, the services available to retired members are limited. Yes, retired lawyers receive Ontario Reports and periodic e-mails electronically, but one cannot imagine that the administrative costs of these are significant. Moreover, the LSO has virtually nothing to monitor or regulate with respect to retired lawyers.

One would have expected an examination of the relationship between the fees and the LSO’s administrative costs in relation to these members. Indeed, there is no analysis in the report. Further, if there are administrative costs, the question is whether there are possible ways to streamline and reduce them.

As part of an appropriate review of this matter, the law society should look at other jurisdictions in Canada. Most jurisdictions have reduced or no fees for retired members.

For example, the Law Society of Manitoba charges non-practising members $100 annually, for which members receive communications from the law society, access to the members portal and the Great Library. However, members may also choose to be inactive members who receive no services and pay no fees.

Several other jurisdictions appear to charge between $50 and $230 for retired members, with Quebec charging between $204.08 and $364.47, depending on where the member lives. If the LSO does proceed to end the fees exemption, the resulting fees would be far above those of any other Canadian law society.

Manitoba draws no distinctions based on age. The LSO report assumes that the only way to avoid “unfair” age distinctions is to make both those older and those younger than 65 pay either the $583.65 or the $1,167.39 fee. Manitoba shows that there is another way, and a way that includes options for members.

The report says that ending the fees exemption would “conservatively” raise $2 million in revenue. However, this is doubtful. It is more likely that the majority of retired lawyers will simply decide to surrender their licence rather than pay approximately $600 annually for limited or no services. The attempt to raise additional revenue would backfire.

More importantly, this change would cause irreparable damage to the relationship with, and goodwill of, retired lawyers. It would diminish the support that retired lawyers provide to the LSO, its members and its ongoing activities.

Those who have provided long and dedicated service to their profession and to the public should, in retirement, be able to maintain a proud association with the legal profession through their continued membership in the LSO. Retired members can be drawn upon to assist and advise the LSO, and to mentor and provide guidance to active members. Instead, the consequence of this change will likely be that the majority will sever their ties.

It is respectfully urged that Convocation reconsider the proposed changes to the fee structure.

Stephen Sharzer is a retired lawyer who worked for the federal Department of Justice for 35 years.