The Law Society of Ontario’s 2019 budget estimates the governing body will spend about $1 million more this year than last on continuing professional development, and will receive half a million dollars less in revenue from the endeavor.
Some lawyers hoping to join the LSO’s board of directors say the LSO may need to do a better job at providing more resources for lawyers with fewer resources, amid competition from other professional associations and demand for free or low-cost programming.
Geoff Pollock, the founder of Geoff Pollock & Associates who is running for a Toronto-based bencher seat in the April 30 election, says he would like to see the law society put its archives of previous lectures online at no charge to licensees, since it would not add much cost at the margin. Pollock says he would also like to see the LSO provide CPD credit for lawyers who volunteer with Pro Bono Ontario, and that the law society could also consider reduced CPD fees for sole practitioners.
“I’m very concerned about the law society’s deficit and the amount of money the law society is spending,” says Pollock. “If you look at the core mandate of the law society, to enhance access to justice and to promote competency of lawyers, making available previous recordings and archived materials would help for that — and I’m saying don’t charge at all for that…Pick a date, two or three years ago when you would get virtually no one buying those programs so you are not reducing your revenue at all.”
Revenue from CPD programming is budgeted for $8.25 million, according to the LSO’s 2019 budget, down from $8.69 million in 2018. The LSO plans to spend $4.4 million on CPD, up from $3.9 million in 2018, the budget says. Overall, law society plans to spend about 23 per cent of its budget, $32,594,500, on professional development and competence this year, and LSO’s other revenue sources include about $101 million in annual fees and about $14.2 million from the licensure process, the budget says.
“The number of alternative service providers in the CPD field continuing to increase,
diverting some demand away from the Law Society,” said the budget approved by current benchers on October 25, 2018. “The Law Society providing more equity and diversity programming, at nominal or no charge, to permit members to fulfil obligations … The CPD revenue mix means there are limited opportunities to curtail CPD expenses in line with decreasing revenues as virtually the same number of courses and programs are being offered.”
Robert Besunder, a sole practitioner running for bencher in Toronto, says he doesn’t think the LSO should get a big financial surplus from CPD programming, and that if elected, he would consider reducing or eliminating the pay lawyers receive for teaching at CPD events.
“The notion of paying people to provide CPD on behalf of the law society, to me, is a little bit counterintuitive. It should be something we all do for the benefit of the profession. I can envision the law society providing more CPD programs and not incurring a great deal of capital costs for the presenters. Because you are getting a benefit as a presenter, you get your own CPD hours free of charge, essentially, and you get fairly good publicity out of it,” says Besunder.
After moving from sole and small practices to his current role at Diamond and Diamond Law, Toronto bencher candidate Darryl Singer says he can how small practitioners have price sensitivity to the events, which can cost hundreds of dollars.
“I think 12 hours is kind of light,” says Singer, who has lectured at CPD events. “Here’s what I do hear, though, from sole practitioners and small-firm lawyers, and that is that the cost of CPD is too high. …. The law society could do two things to benefit the profession, and in turn benefit the public. One is to increase the number of mandatory CPD hours. But secondly — still allow private providers but where the law society is running the event itself, have a significantly reduced cost if not, perhaps no cost at all.”
Based out of Prince Edward County, Ont., candidate Cheryl Lean says that while she routinely does more CPD than what is required, she would take a fresh look at extra three hours of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion training that lawyers are required by the LSO to complete before 2020.
“We have to be more alert as to how support new lawyers, but I don’t know that it’s necessarily through formal CPD. What I’m talking about is if the local law association had their own lecture series. I’m thinking about, ‘How can you implement something not be too onerous and look to the local bar?’” says Lean.
But Antoine Collins says the LSO’s CPD has been of value for him, though he notes his law licenses in U.S. jurisdictions have different models for ensuring professional development.
“The CPD was very crucial to me,” says Collins, a sole practitioner and Ottawa-based bencher candidate. “The law society could probably think of different ways to offer more effective pricing. We implement a tiered system — so lower pricing for new calls, solo practitioners and small firms. Or, do some collaborations with local law associations and stakeholders.”
Local, affordable deals for streaming technology could be one option for the law society, said bencher candidate Winfield Corcoran in an email to Law Times. The law society could also look at its most popular past programs for inspiration, said Corcoran.
“There must by now be a large database available as to what sells and what does not. We want to include that information as we go forward and use it whenever possible. I suggest from my limited experience that we now need to look inside the well-defined areas of law and try to understand the connections, the common ground between them,” said Corcoran. “Themes such as access to justice, prevention of violence in any form and in particular violence toward women, proportionality in the use of our resources, civility between us, the detection and prevention of fraud, none of these themes are ‘owned’ by any area of the law, and some or all of which can be artfully injected into many, if not all of the CPD presentations.”