Unpaid work, student debt, the partnership path and costs of running an election are some of the issues that face new calls running for representation at the Law Society of Ontario, say bencher hopefuls in the early stages of their
Nima Hojjati, an associate at Swadron Associates in Toronto, who was
called to the bar last year, said he has considered running, but he
ultimately decided against it.
“Winning an election seems like an impossible task. There are two
categories of people who can become benchers. If you are in a good place
in your career, a prominent lawyer, you can let your reputation speak
for itself,” says Hojjati, who is chairman of the LSO’s Equity Advisory
Group, which is not open to benchers. “And the other big thing is if you
have the resources for it. . . . When you don’t have any money, that’s a
big hill to climb.”
Sean Robichaud, lead counsel at Robichaud’s, who practises in Toronto
and throughout Ontario and was called to the bar in 2005, is advocating
in his bencher campaign for a special category to ensure the presence
of newer calls in Convocation.
He says part of the reason he’s running is that Convocation needs
benchers who are in the earlier stages of their career and who can
influence policy outcomes by the regulator.
“If you are a younger lawyer at a ‘seven sisters’ firm and you are
running against a senior partner or two at the same firm, the chances of
the firm putting the resources to a younger lawyer is obviously not
going to work in your favour,” says Robichaud.
Historically, it is indeed rare for recent calls to serve in Convocation, according to research by Professor Noel Semple.
In 2016, Semple published an article in the Canadian Journal of Law and Society that showed that early-career lawyers were “completely unrepresented in the Law Society’s elected leadership.”
After analyzing candidate campaign materials and voting pattern data
from five LSUC bencher elections since 1999, Semple found that while
almost half of Ontario lawyers had been practising for less than 15
years, only two of the 40 lawyers elected fell into that category in
“These two benchers had twelve and thirteen years of experience
respectively. None of the benchers elected in 2015 were among Ontario’s
lawyers in the first decade of practice, who made up 25 to 30 percent of
all lawyers in the province,” Semple wrote.
“The average bencher elected over this period had been licensed in Ontario for 27.53 years at the time of his or her election.”
Jacqueline Horvat, a partner and co-founder of Spark LLP, who mostly
practises in Windsor and was called to the bar in 2002, was elected in
2011 with nine years of experience in the profession.
The Law Society Gazette said she was the youngest bencher ever elected at age 33.
Horvat says she was lucky to work with former LSO treasurer Harvey
Strosberg, who supported her candidacy and campaigned on her behalf.
Horvat has since spoken at Convocation about issues that might affect
the candidacy of benchers, such as a policy that requires benchers to
work at least 26 days before being remunerated at a rate of $585 per day
and $355 per half-day (as of 2018).
“I wasn’t judged on the hours I billed or face time in the office,” says Horvat.
“If you are at a firm that cares a lot about billable hours and
that’s the only requirement they look at for things like bonuses and
partnership, then it may be a problem.”
Although it is rare for early-career lawyers to serve in Convocation
as benchers, the law society has made decisions that affect this group.
In December, Convocation altered the training process for aspiring
lawyers, approving a proposal to mandate pay for articling students and
audit the firms where they work beginning May 1, 2021.
The body also approved a proposal last year to add a new law school
to the province at Ryerson University, although the plan has since met
roadblocks at the provincial level.
Signa Daum Shanks, who has taught law students since 2010 and is
running for bencher, says it would be helpful for the law society to
collect data on how mounting fees affect early-career lawyers.
The LSO’s licensure fees, which must be paid by law graduates hoping
to enter the field, include $2,800 for experiential training, $750 for
each of the barristers and solicitors exams and $160 for application
“It’s so difficult for new lawyers to get on their feet, so that idea
of being able to contribute to the legal profession, supporting its
self-regulation, is a really difficult one to imagine because of other
pressures,” she says.
New calls are not the only group that have criticized Convocation’s composition in terms of years of experience.
The regulatory body approved last year a policy that would restrict the rights of many long-time members or “life” benchers.
“You can’t just create a binder labelled ‘institutional memory’ and
hand it off,” former LSO treasurer Vern Krishna, counsel at TaxChambers
LLP in Toronto and law professor at the University of Ottawa, told Law Times in December 2018.
“The loss of corporate memory is unfortunate because it shifts the balance of power.”
Robichaud says that while he supports a designated role for
early-career lawyers, the body should remain weighted toward veteran
members of the profession.
“People with extensive experience in the practice are
invaluable and we certainly would not want to discourage more
experienced members of the bar from running — if anything perhaps it
should be weighted toward seniority. The problem we face is there is
simply no younger perspective,” he says.