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Claire Wilkinson

Central West Electoral Region (CW)
Claire Wilkinson

Candidate bio description

I am a personal injury lawyer with particular expertise in sexual abuse litigation. I have been practicing in Burlington, Ontario at Martin & Hillyer Associates since my call to the bar in 1995. I am the immediate Past President of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (having served on its board 13 years prior to the Presidency). I am also a Past President of the Halton County Law Association, having served on its board for a total of 17 years. I am acutely aware of the challenges facing smaller law associations, and solo and small firm practitioners. In the summer and fall of 2018 I was pleased to participate in the Superior Court “one judge model” consultation group chaired by Chief Justice Strathy. I have also been on the Board of Directors for Mind Forward Brain Injury Services since 2013. I have a lot of experience in policy development, and I am ready to work!

What inspired you to run for bencher this year?

During my time as President of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (2017-2018), I was very involved with government relations and consultations with the Attorney General's office, including some collaborations with the Law Society of Ontario. In particular, I worked with the current Treasurer, Malcolm Mercer, in his capacity as chair of the Advertising and Fee Arrangements Issues Working Group, and was impressed with the extraordinary attention to detail and level of thought that went into every aspect of the recommendations made by that group. It is indeed a privilege to be part of a solution to problems and challenges that affect the lawyers and citizens of the Province of Ontario. I want to continue to make a difference.

What do you believe is the biggest issue facing the legal profession?

Ontario faces huge challenges with access to justice. Litigants are waiting unreasonable periods of time to have their cases heard, and lawyers are frustrated not to be able to provide timely service for their clients. The lack of judicial resources and the volume of litigation being managed by our judges is stretching our system to the point where litigation wait times have become dysfunctional in certain regions. We need to find innovative ways to deliver legal services, dispute resolution mechanisms, and ultimately adjudication of matters in dispute that cost less and are more efficient. But delays in getting cases in to court is not the only problem. Law school educations have become extremely expensive, resulting in many students going overseas to pursue their legal education to obtain degrees in shorter periods of time. A surplus of students has led to shortages in articling positions, and despite programs like Ryerson’s Law Practice Program, many students are still struggling to find positions. The LSO needs to think creatively about how to address this issue, and possibly shortening the time frame for a traditional legal education, while still providing students with supplemental practical training that will adequately prepare them for practice.

What would be your first priority upon election?

As President of OTLA, I had the opportunity to work on the contingency fee file with LSO and the Ministry of the Attorney General, resulting in changes to the Solicitors Act that have not yet been proclaimed into law as the Regulations still need to be finalized. The legislative changes were made with the previous government, and I would make it a priority to ensure that the rest of the Regulations are drafted, and that the entire set of regulatory amendments are formally enacted. Clients need to able to read simple and straight forward standardized contingency fee agreements that are transparent and easy to understand. This is another very important access to justice issue.

What do you hope to achieve over the next four years as a member of Convocation?

I want to work to ensure the best possible means of access to justice for litigants in Ontario. In the practice of family law, there are a substantial number of unrepresented litigants. There is currently a debate underway as to whether or not paralegals might be able to provide services to family law clients who otherwise would not be able to afford a lawyer. There is no doubt that family law is a challenging area of practice that requires highly qualified, well trained practitioners. I do not agree that paralegals should be able to independently handle family law matters, but there remains an opportunity for lawyers to employ and supervise paralegals in a manner that could prove successful in providing supervised and more cost effective services to clients. There are already family lawyers in Ontario who work successfully with paralegals to enhance client services. The LSO needs to focus on these success stories and learn from them, so that the LSO can provide further education and training to members. In every decision that I make as a bencher, I want to keep the principles of equity, fairness and access to justice at the top of my list of priorities.

What's the most pressing concern for the profession in your region of the province?

There are a significant number of family law practitioners in Central West, so the discussion regarding expanding the scope of independent paralegal work is critical to those members practicing family law. But the paralegal discussion is really just another aspect of the broader issue, which is striving for improved access to justice for litigants coming before the courts. Lengthier trials and litigation proceedings have made litigation more protracted and expensive, and can also lead to additional stress and headaches for lawyers who are trying to litigate their cases efficiently and effectively. The LSO needs to continue to work collaboratively with those who administer our courts to develop policies, procedures, practice directions or legislative amendments (such as changes to rules regarding simplified procedure), to try to ensure adequate access to justice for the people of Ontario.

Do you support the requirement to create and abide by a statement of principles?

I do support creating and abiding by a statement of principles. This is not a matter of “thought police”. This is a situation where certain standards need to be ingrained into the way lawyers think and act. It was not so long ago that it was predominantly men in Ontario’s law schools. Through a commitment on the part of Ontario’s law schools to seek to enrich its enrollment by ensuring that women were part of its student body, Ontario dramatically increased the number of female lawyers in the profession. The same principles apply to the Law Society’s efforts to ensure that its members conduct themselves in a manner that promotes equality, diversity and inclusivity. These are important principles that also need to be ingrained into the way we think and act. It is the lawyers in our society who are tasked with ensuring the rule of law is maintained and applied to ensure a free and democratic society. Freedom, fairness and equality are values that must be treasured and honoured. We need not apologize for reminding our lawyers of these important values. 

Poll Question

What do you see as the top issue that prospective benchers need to address if they are elected?