The Law Society of Ontario needs a modernization initiative | Joseph Chiummiento

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Joseph Chiummiento

It’s budget season at the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) and the last budget for this assembly before the bencher elections in the spring. Many councilors will no doubt be toying with their constituents and special interest groups when commenting on the budget process. Don’t be fooled.

The bad news in the proposed budget is that your costs will increase. The GOOD news is that they will only go up a bit – although that doesn’t really count as good news in my book. This “little” is approximately 9.3% if the budget is adopted as proposed.

Inflate

The “Salaries and Benefits” category for all LSO employees totals $72 million in the proposed budget. Additionally, LinkedIn shows that the LSO is also booming with 30 new positions opening. With an average salary of $100,000, that could be an additional $3 million (it’s hard to say if these additions are included in the proposed budget). There are currently 552 full-time equivalent employees—you do the math on the average salary.

The costs of the professional regulation and tribunal (PRT) “program” are proposed at $30 million and represent 225 of the current 552 employees, or almost half of all employees.

ERP and salaries account for approximately 86% of budget expenditures when considering library funding, capital improvement funding, and compensation funding, which typically do not fund operations or are reserved for others. This means that the majority of these remaining funds (library, capital and compensation) are not used to manage the day-to-day operations of the LSO.

Any effort to reduce the budget or real change should start with a modernization effort, perhaps with PRT, and in the area of ​​human resource efficiency, which combined are the 86% elephants in the room .

Chicken and egg game

Cuts to programs like professional regulation are too complicated to happen without a committee study, report and recommendation. Ditto for cuts in salaries or staff. Budget cuts can only happen if program cuts or slimming programs are recommended…and in sober October, it’s too late to decide willy-nilly which programs to cut or cut.

The result is that when debating the budget, councilors are relegated to complaining about relatively small categories such as councilor expenses, awards and awards ceremony costs, or catering or restaurant costs. Dab on the edges so to speak.

One of the effects of this is that when the budgets are presented to the Council, many of my colleagues feel that they have suddenly found themselves faced with a fait accompli, with no choice but to vote for it. Those who do not support the budget are then met with outrage and condescension, and accusations of irresponsible grandstanding, for not supporting the good work of the finance committee. How dare they, these deplorables!

If that fails to deter thoughtful dissenters, outsiders, or champions of truth, well, like clockwork, the Federation of Law Associations of Ontario (FOLA), the Toronto Lawyers Association, and many associations of local law libraries coincidentally chime in to mark dissent as a call for irresponsible cuts. and, clearly, a call to cut funding for law libraries (gasp). A cut in the budget does not automatically mean a cut in library funding, and one has to ask where such fear or belief comes from or who best serves that fear.

Motion to study the annual dues freeze

Two of my fellow councillors, Chi-Kun Shi and Cheryl Lean, introduced a motion to consider a possible alternative budget that would freeze annual dues. This means that they are asking management to provide the Audit and Finance Committee with a possible alternative budget that would cover the proposed 9.3% increase in the LSO’s internal funds.

They are simply asking to see what such a budget would look like. No harm, no fault, right? The motion does not propose any cuts or eliminations of programs.

An astronomical campaign of fabricated outrage ensued. Councilors received letters from interest groups and mainstream activists bizarrely accusing Councilors Shi and Lean of threatening library funding.

I would like to see what an alternative budget might look like without a fee increase as a matter of more transparency, more accountability, and ultimately an exercise in good governance. Failure to do so could be perceived as stubborn complacency, a failure in the public interest and the opposite of good governance.

If the audit and finance committee has already considered such an alternative, then that’s fine, send the draft to Convening and we’ll be done with it.

Modernization

The overwhelming attention brought by the Lean/Shi motion highlights the need for the LSO and the consultants to seize this opportunity to modernize. Review its programs, either internally or with the help of external consultants, to find efficiencies and modernize programs.

Independent lawyers and small firms (and all of them) are held to a standard to ensure their “processes” and “workflows” are competency-based to protect the public and best facilitate the access to justice. Perhaps it’s time for the LSO to look in the mirror, challenge their fear, and embrace a process of change – to look within even though it hurts.

A modest 5% reduction resulting from program modernization and process efficiencies could result in savings of over $5 million (or approximately $100 in annual dues per member). In my opinion, any consultant worth their salt would no doubt investigate scenarios with such “high” savings or “potentially up to” 20% of pre-commitment figures.

The time has come for the LSO and its advisers to commit to modernizing and finding efficiencies, to reducing its financial footprint on the professions and in particular on independent practitioners and smaller practices – and by extension the public.

Joseph Chiummiento is a securities lawyer, coach and mentor for owners of independent law firms and small law firms, and bencher of the Law Society of Ontario. He can be contacted by email at [email protected]

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