In my previous video, I started a conversation on fiscal equity. Fiscal equity requires recognizing barriers to providing legal services as barriers to access to justice. And equity requires alleviating those barriers through inclusion-based measures.
I believe that current levels of paralegal fees are inequitable across the board. But they especially and disproportionately affect those licensees who are only able to work part-time in the profession because of a disability, or family structure, or other valid Human Rights considerations that are very familiar to us as paralegals, yet the Law Society has never thought to incorporate them into its billing scheme.
The way annual fees are structured for us right now is that everyone pays the same full fee regardless of the caseload, or their ability to work full-time. And if you pay anything less than a full fee, like 50 or 25 percent, then you are not allowed to provide legal services, not in private practice, not being employed.
A paralegal who is only able to operate part-time due to a disability, or family commitments such as being a single parent or during a parental leave in which female licensees are still disproportionately affected, or caring for an incapacitated family member, or coming back after maternity or a disability absence, they should not be subject to the same fees or fee structure or other burdens as those licensees who have no impediments to being able to work full-time.
As a matter of fact, in some jurisdictions such as British Columbia and Alberta, licensees can go on a part-time licensing status with their fees reduced accordingly.
It allows them to take the necessary leave, and at the same time keep an eye on their practice, maintain a lower number of files, but stay current and up-to-date on changes affecting their field of law, while they are forced to reduce their case load. In Ontario it’s all or nothing.
It is my position that public interest requires a mechanism to at the very least alleviate the burdens for those paralegals who are in a dire temporary circumstance due to family or health reasons, or navigating through a retirement age, but still want to stay on and give back, and mentor, and carry a few files taking care of old loyal clients.
It is my position that the inflexible all-or-nothing approach adopted by the Law Society fee structure creates inequities based on gender, age, family status, disability, and those in turn, even further disproportionately affect paralegals who belong to, or serve the racialized and indigenous communities.
When elected a bencher I will advocate not only for reducing paralegal fees across the board, I will also stand for creating fee categories, which recognize parental responsibilities that licensees face when they become parents, fee categories, which accommodate special needs of licensees who are disabled or preparing for retirement, so that they may continue to contribute to access to justice with dignity.
Unfortunately, looking for any sorts of fee discounts, or fee deferrals, or some additional supports for those licensees is not going to be easy.
And I hate to bring up the so-called “good governance” again, and I wish I never had to. But just this past October, every single incumbent bencher who is now a Coalition member voted against a motion, which would have asked the management for a budget without a fee increase. That motion was lost, and we are now facing another fee increase this year of $80 plus tax. And paralegal examination fees went up by $200 representing additional barriers to entry. That’s a lot macaroni and cheese for a paralegal who is a single parent on a starter salary of 18 to 20 dollars an hour. It’s a lot of painkiller meds for a disabled paralegal who only works part time. It’s a lot of baby formula for a paralegal who is struggling to balance responsibilities as a new parent while trying to start or continuing to practice.
It also reflects the fact that the Law Society has been operating at a deficit in 2022. 16.2-million-dollar deficit, to be exact. That means in 2022 the Law Society overspent our fees by approximately $230 per each and every lawyer and paralegal member.
But that’s not the whole story. The 2023 budget, which was approved in October Convocation is also a deficit budget. Again.
And even that is not the whole story. Now, how do we fund the deficit? Well, the 2023 budget accounts for a significant reduction of our savings instead of reduction of our spendings. The plan is to tap into the funds and to reduce the Lawyer General Fund by an astounding 28.5 percent almost a third, and to reduce the Paralegal General Fund by 25 percent to meet the deficit, in addition to our fees going up. And because of the budgeted deficit of 8.7 million dollars in 2023, our fees will now have to go up again in 2024. And that means the Lawyer and Paralegal General Funds are likely to take a hit again in 2024 in addition to most likely increasing our fees again in 2025.
And it’s all because the spending budget desperately needs to be restrained.
So how exactly do I solve it?
Well, for one thing, you can be assured that my voice will remain independent, and independently informed.
To prepare myself for this role, I have been studying publicly available annual reports and comparing financial records of the Law Society year over year going back to 2011. I am actually taking the time to study the structure of the corporation and the business of the board on which I run to serve as a director, and I have made it my business to study the Law Society financial trends.
And I have a business background and executive experience to analyze and understand financial records of a corporation. As a matter of fact, I currently run a corporation. And I am meeting the challenge in a very tough and competitive market of running a profitable real estate company on very thin margins.
Also, in the past, I served as an executive director in charge of organizing Panama Festivals in Toronto, and I was able to produce World class international festivals here for two years, stretching sponsorship dollars as far as they could go and beyond, and without ever taking a single penny from the government.
When elected a bencher, as someone who has executive business experience, and a proven track record of adhering to financial discipline and restraint, I will be ready to support some tough measures, and business decisions that need to be made in order to balance the Law Society budget and I will stand for responsible fiscal policies.
And I will stand to ensure that those policies are balanced against equity and inclusion. That means I will stand for removing barriers to entry and barriers to practice on human rights grounds. That means I will stand for fee policies, which will recognize parental responsibilities, accommodate special needs of licensees who are disabled or preparing for retirement, so that they may continue to contribute to access to justice with dignity.
With that in mind, I will stand for fiscal restraint and discipline in every way possible when spending your money so that the fee reductions that I aspire to bring to the paralegal profession can be sustainable.
And that’s where I stand on fiscal policies and on protecting the paralegal community from unfair burdens and financial barriers to practice. Thank you again for reflecting on them with me.