With this video, I continue to reach out to you, introduce my platform, and reflect with you on matters that are important in this election.
In the fiscal policy videos, I discussed the need to reform paralegal fees across the board and even further to ease the burdens and financial inequities faced by certain disadvantaged groups of licensees.
On the same note, when elected a bencher, I will also stand for addressing inequities in the disciplinary process.
Anyone can make a mistake. Sole practitioners and small firms are more likely to be the subject of complaints. Paralegals, with the exception of those employed by law firms and the government, are mostly in the category of small firms and sole practitioners.
I believe in the rule of law, and I believe that we are all equal under the law. However, being equal under the law does not mean we are all equally impacted by the same application of the law.
I believe that large law firms on one hand and sole proprietor paralegals on the other who are found responsible for the same type of misconduct should not be treated equally.
What I mean is, this is another case where equality can produce inequity and can erode access to justice.
Disciplinary measures that could be a slap on the wrist, and a mere cost of doing business for a prominent litigation or corporate law firm, can be crippling for a sole practitioner or a small paralegal firm.
The effect of interlocutory suspensions between a senior lawyer and a new paralegal could range from a mere sabbatical break to a crushing end of someone’s career.
And that’s why in preparing for my role as a bencher, I wanted to do some research and see where we stand as a profession with respect to conduct, and to see how the Law Society discipline process is affecting paralegals.
And what I found was shocking. Turns out, there is a disproportionately high, alarming ratio of paralegals facing disciplinary penalties.
I will share this with you. According to the 2021 annual report, paralegals accounted for just over 15 percent of the Law Society membership. Fifteen point five and some decimals to be exact. As for licensees who practice law and provide legal services, paralegals account for 8.6 percent of active practicing membership.
Remember that number, 8.6 percent. But when you look at discipline, paralegals accounted for 27 percent of all Tribunal files open in 2021. When you look at discipline outcomes, paralegals accounted for 36 percent of all definite suspensions, 44 percent of all indefinite suspensions, and paralegal matters accounted for 52 percent of all fines ordered in 2021. And for the type of proceedings, it’s mostly related to conduct.
If it’s any consolation, according to the most recent Tribunal Committee report, at least paralegals on average receive shorter suspensions than lawyers.
But the report provides no transparency on the ratio of costs ordered against paralegals as compared to lawyers.
I have then compared the recent Financial Statements and I compared the section of revenues, which include disciplinary cost recoveries, against expenses directly related to regulations, tribunals, and compliance.
I found that in 2021, the Law Society revenues related to cost recoveries amounted to approximately 19 percent of the corresponding expenses for lawyers, while at the same time, the same ratio was twice as high – 38.5 percent for paralegals. In 2020, the ratios again were 21 and 40 percent respectively.
And unfortunately, the publicly available annual reports of the Law Society provide no transparency on that portion of its revenue either. It is simply grouped under section Other Revenues, which also comprises income from Ontario Reports Royalties and the Administrative Fees.
Without the necessary transparency, it may appear from the Law Society’s own Financial Statements that paralegals could possibly be charged disproportionately higher cost recoveries in discipline matters compared to lawyers.
For these reasons, as a bencher, a director, I will put my loyalty to the Law Society to raising and protecting the public trust and confidence in the Law Society and in the Law Society Tribunal by standing for (among other things) a thorough and transparent disclosure as to why the ratio of cost recoveries in paralegal discipline matters appears twice as high as that ratio for lawyers, and why the ratio of paralegal suspensions and fines is so disproportionately and alarmingly high.
Access to justice by members of our own paralegal profession within our own self-governance is a platform item that I do not even see sufficiently addressed by my fellow paralegal candidates.
Leadership calls for highlighting things that are sometimes disturbing, leadership calls for sometimes coming out of comfort zones and expose problems, so that as a community we can solve them.
As I continue my research in preparation for my role as a bencher, I will be rolling out additional materials and platform views on exploring and removing inequities that members of our profession face within the Law Society discipline process.