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Robert Besunder

City of Toronto Electoral Region
Robert Besunder

Candidate bio description

I am a sole practitioner in Toronto, whose focus over the past three decades has been on litigation. Prior to starting my own firm in 2016, I worked for 27 years in a small firm primarily practicing insurance defence and plaintiff personal injury litigation, as well as some family law. I was called to the bar in 1991 after graduating from McGill University’s Faculty of Law in 1989, after obtaining a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto. Since 2015, I have also carried on a private practice as a mediator and arbitrator, having received the Q.Med. designation from the ADR Institute of Ontario. Since 2006, I have also been a Deputy Judge of the Small Claims Court for the Central East Region, and I sit on the Board for the Ontario Deputy Judges Association.

What inspired you to run for bencher this year?

It seems rare lately to hear an Ontario lawyer say something positive about the Law Society. I don’t believe in complaining, however – I believe in listening to the concerns of other lawyers, and finding out why they have concerns, and then working to find solutions. It is for that reason that I am running for Bencher, to try to effect some needed change for the benefit of the profession. I am a sole practitioner litigator, whose career has always been in a solo or small firm setting. The financial and practice management issues that concern lawyers, along with general licensing and governance issues, are very real and immediate for me. I live in the ADR world as a mediator as well, and also have spent 13 years sitting as a deputy judge in Small Claims Court. I believe that I can be a voice for a large but under-represented demographic in the profession, knowing the demands of juggling multiple roles.

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

The recent buzz-word in litigation has been "proportionality" - that term applies to the legal profession as a whole. There are competing interests, with the Law Society's need to regulate the profession, which comes with various obligations upon lawyers (many of them financial), which then must be weighed against the need to keep the practice of law competitive, so as not to price legal services out of the range of many potential clients. There needs to be a well-considered proportionality between those two interests. Law school tuitions, in the context of access to the profession - there too, proportionality is a significant issue that needs to be addressed.

What would be your first priority upon election?

My first priority would be to look at the financial state of the Law Society - looking at the revenues generated through annual fees and other sources, and looking at what the Law Society is actually providing for its members. This isn't just a case of looking for ways of cutting waste and excess - it is a case of ensuring that members' dollars are directed toward adding real value to the profession. One of the first areas I would like to examine, for example, is the high cost of CPD to the average lawyer. If the Law Society truly wishes to see lawyers stay current in their skills and knowledge through CPD, then the Law Society needs to ensure access to high quality programs at an affordable price for its members.

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

I hope to see the Law Society become more responsive to the needs and concerns of all members, and not just a select group of interests. Notions of access to justice, and diversity in the profession, need to become actions and not just words, so that lawyers go beyond paying mere lip-service to principled expectations, and can incorporate these principles into their everyday practices. That doesn't happen through the imposition of dictates upon people - it happens through engaging people in a real dialogue and making abstract principles into something tangible that lawyers will buy into. The Law Society needs to become more of a partner in the profession, engaged in the reality of being a lawyer, and not just an arm's-length body that most lawyers view with a bit of suspicion.

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

The intangible value of the "satisfaction" of being a lawyer in Toronto is a significant concern. This is true for every size of legal practice, and even for those who do not actively practice. How do we make law a profession that attracts good people, and then keeps good people, rather than one which sees members feeling stressed, alienated, powerless and frustrated, to the point of leaving the profession? While there are those who make a good living in the profession and enjoy it, there is also a common refrain that "there must be an easier way to make a living". The Law Society can play a significant role, through education and governance, to improve the working environment for lawyers, to improve the efficiencies of practice, and to show that there are worthy values beyond just the bottom line.

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

While I am supportive of the intent behind the creation of a statement of principles, I find that for many lawyers this is an example of the Law Society being detached from day-to-day reality. The statement of principles, for many, is just a series of words, or an abstract notion. It is far too easy to satisfy one's conscience through the step of creating and abiding by a statement of principles - it is a much more onerous task to try to make those principles mean something tangible to the average lawyer. Again, education is a role the Law Society can assume, in helping members understand the "why" behind the statement, and the "how" in terms of making it real. The education in this area needs to be practical, as well - dialogue and workshops where people make connections are great examples, as opposed to passively watching a webinar. The requirements in this area need not be onerous in order to have substance and value - they just need to be well thought out.

Poll Question

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