Wellness: With access to justice, the Law Society should follow suit | Darryl Singer

” style=”margin: 5px 15px 0 0px; border: 1px solid #999; width: 150px;”/>
Darryl Singer

Every year around this time, we attend the Law Society of Ontario’s Access to Justice Week. In my opinion, like the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, it’s a lot of talk and very little concrete change on the part of the organization.

In my mind, access to justice should involve trying to create real solutions to the problem of access to justice. The LSO, with its huge cash reserves, could establish legal clinics for the large percentage of Ontarians who fall through the cracks of family law and criminal law because they earn too much to qualify for the legal aid (or that their cases are not covered due to funding cuts) but do not have enough money to hire a lawyer. We all know that self-advocacy, while sometimes successful, is just a mistake.

The Law Society could establish grants, scholarships or other funding programs for members of our profession who wish to take on marginalized clients or underfunded cases. There are plenty of lawyers who would gladly do more for less, but for the pesky realities of rent and staff.

We could also establish some sort of pro bono initiatives, where lawyers who put in a certain amount of time could receive reduced fees, reduced insurance premiums, or had their CPD requirements waived.

And since we know that access to justice for Ontarians is improved when our lawyers are mentally healthy, I again call on the LSO to have real change in how we deal with these issues. The LSO repeatedly ignores, neglects and refuses to help lawyers in crisis with practice management issues, but instead devotes its resources to investigating and prosecuting the lawyer who is already not managing.

The LSO wants to talk, but not walk. He continues to have mental health seminars where these things are discussed, but the systemic attitudes have not changed. The LSO is hosting seminars for this year’s Access to Justice Week on data collection, explaining why some groups struggle to access justice. Many of these panels involve professors and other academics talking about studies. If we really want lawyers and the justice system to be able to provide access to justice, we need to teach them about people, about law enforcement, and about how best to deliver those services. Instead, we continue to focus on the most disconnected people in our profession (academics and Bay Street types) telling everyone what the issues are. Instead, these panels should be populated by lawyers in the trenches — the small-town lawyer, the lawyer who does legal aid work in marginalized communities, the lawyers who want to help but don’t have the ways to do it. Instead, every year for a week we have this self-gratification think tank on how we need to increase access to justice. Then everyone thinks they’ve accomplished something and leaves for the next year.

I practiced law for 28 years, and access to justice is worse than it has ever been. Why? Here are some examples:

  • court backlogs at an all-time high because we don’t have enough courtrooms or judges;
  • legal costs at an all-time high because, especially in major urban centers like Toronto, the cost of rent, staff salaries, and the cost of living in general (not to mention law school tuition) are skyrocketing ;
  • constant changes in laws and procedures that make things more costly in terms of time and money than before;
  • continued cuts to legal aid funding; and
  • too many lawyers are admitted without real quality control.

The LSO should strive to do all it can to persuade the provincial and federal governments to adequately fund the justice system, ensure that its members are healthy and have incentives to provide access to justice and to use its enormous mandate to “protect the public” to actually help effect systemic change. Talking is cheap. Both lawyers and their clients need action.

Darryl Singer is Head of Commercial and Civil Litigation at Diamond & Diamond Lawyers LLP in Toronto. His opinions are his own.

The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s firm, its clients, The Lawyer’s Daily, LexisNexis Canada or one of its respective affiliates. This article is for general informational purposes and is not intended to be and should not be considered legal advice.

Interested in writing for us? To learn more about how you can add your voice to The lawyer’s daily lifecontact analysis editor Richard Skinulis at [email protected] or call (647) 776-6672.