Treasurer Schabas riding wave of changes at LSUC

Posted: 09/12/2017

Treasurer Paul Schabas

This article was originally published by The Lawyer’s Daily (www.thelawyersdaily.ca)

By Amanda Jerome           

The doors that lead to the Law Society of Upper Canada may be heavy, but they’ve been held open time and again over the past year as the law society has faced an array of public challenges.

From rules around advertising and contingency fees, discussions on the licensing process and the restructuring of its Professional Regulation division, to making the law society more accessible to the public, change has been a constant theme during the law society’s Convocations. Overseeing these deliberations is LSUC treasurer Paul Schabas, a partner at Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP in Toronto.

Schabas began his second term as elected treasurer of the law society in June and plans to keep last year’s upbeat pace for this term’s agenda.

“We’ve all been busy and I think there’s a mood among my colleagues at Convocation that it’s 2017 and we have to confront change. We have to confront the challenges we face as a very diverse profession. I think setting a robust agenda has been invigorating and embraced by my colleagues and I’m really pleased to see that,” he said.

Schabas said he’s keen to advance an agenda that firmly places the LSUC as a modern, progressive regulator and he hopes that in his remaining time as treasurer he can set the society on that path to change.

One of the main changes Schabas initiated after he was elected treasurer was to examine the law society’s communications strategy, which not only includes a dialogue with the legal profession, but also with the public. According to Schabas, enhancing the law society’s connection with the public was a part of the society’s strategic plan that hadn’t been advanced yet, so he took the lead and created the Strategic Communications Steering Group to engage consultants on where communications could be improved.

“They did some robust survey research and they’re [the steering group] coming forward with some extensive recommendations on a communications plan later this fall,” he said, adding that one of the recommendations, which was announced in June, was to change the law society’s name.

“If we want to connect with the public and reach the public, [the consultants] strongly urged us to change our name. Because our name, based on the research, appears to clearly be a barrier to us reaching and connecting with the public,” he said. “The name ‘Upper Canada’ in particular doesn’t reflect who we are. It doesn’t reflect what we do and it’s not understood by most of the public.”

Schabas said he’s made it clear where he stands on this issue and that connecting with the public should be the paramount consideration when Convocation discusses a name change in September. He said the objective recommendations made by consultants on this issue need to be seriously looked at if the law society is to be a modern regulator acting in the public interest.

Schabas said that ultimately it is up to Convocation to decide whether the law society should change its name and if it does the transition would take about a year.

Changing the law society’s name to something more in touch with the public would align with other transformations happening around the LSUC to promote inclusion and diversity.

“One of my proudest moments this year was the passage of the Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees Working Group report in December where we approved some very robust and progressive recommendations to promote equity, diversity and inclusion in the profession,” said Schabas, adding that these steps are meant to accelerate a culture shift to promote values of diversity in the legal profession.

Schabas pointed to matters on Indigenous issues as another area where the law society is continuing to push ahead in terms of truth, reconciliation and inclusion. He said the law society approved an Indigenous specialization certification last fall for legal professionals. More recently, the LSUC set up an Indigenous framework in June to guide the work it does with the Aboriginal community.

“[The framework] brings an Indigenous lens for us to look at everything we do through that lens and finally, also in June, I announced the creation of a review panel to look at how Indigenous issues are dealt with in our regulatory process,” he said, adding that the regulatory process includes Indigenous complaints and investigations and how the law society deals with Indigenous legal issues, Indigenous peoples and lawyers.

During these times of change, Schabas has made a commitment to transparency in the law society’s operations with the view that it makes the society more accountable. The memorandum he sent out to Convocation’s standing committees were made publicly available on the law society’s website as well as the committees’ reports of their progress.

Schabas points to the extensive work done by the Advertising and Fee Issues Working Group as an area where the law society is endeavouring to bring greater transparency to the public and its dealings with the legal profession. He said these changes were in response to concerns brought forward by the public and there will be more change to come as recommendations relating to contingency fees will be brought forward in the fall.

Another area that has piqued public interest is the report on family legal services commissioned by Schabas’ predecessor and submitted by former Chief Justice Annemarie Bonkalo in March. This report sparked debate among members of the family law bar as part of the report recommends paralegals be allowed to provide certain services unsupervised by a lawyer. Schabas said the LSUC is reviewing the report and will come forward with a response and recommendations in the coming months.

Schabas said an area that the LSUC will continue to work on is the licensing process, acknowledging that the law society has been aware of issues in this area for some time.

“I certainly mandated our [Professional Development and Competence] Committee to come up with recommendations, so they know they’ve go to come up with recommendations this year. It takes time, but it’s got to be done right. As I’ve said publicly, we’ve been tinkering with our licensing process for many years and we’ve got to come up with some longer lasting changes that are in the public interest,” he said.

The LSUC started a comprehensive review of Ontario’s existing lawyer licensing system this past April by holding a dialogue on licensing. According to the LSUC website, this dialogue was conducted at 15 in-person events in seven cities across the province and at one interactive webcast. Over 250 lawyers, licensing candidates, law students and stakeholders participated, with their feedback going to inform the committee’s review.

“There’s going to be more consultation and reports on that in the fall as we move forward to coming up with some really significant recommendations to confront the challenges we have around articling and licensing process,” said Schabas.

Convocation will meet again in September and face many items for consideration as change continues to be the name of the game at the LSUC.

“I think we’ve done a lot this year. It’s been an exciting year. I certainly set a robust agenda for Convocation and I think we’re well on our way to achieving the goals that I wanted to achieve,” said Schabas.