An unhealthy break-up // News

Was it quality concerns or infighting that led to the ouster of OLAP?

By Leigh Doyle

On Tuesday March 19th, 2013

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Ontario lawyers suffering from stress at work, issues at home or mental health problems now have a new service provider.

The Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) and LawPRO have stopped funding the Ontario Lawyers’ Assistance Program (OLAP), the non-profit organization that has provided support for lawyers for 35 years and has been funded by LSUC and LawPRO since 2006. Homewood Human Solutions took over as the profession’s employee assistance plan (EAP) provider in January. LSUC says Homewood will provide a broader range of services and a bigger counsellor network.

But OLAP chairman Rod McLeod says the switch is the result of a dysfunctional relationship between OLAP and LSUC.

While the decision to stop funding was made last September, the discord began earlier. In an email, Roy Thomas, director of communications for LSUC, told Precedent the Law Society, LawPRO and OLAP agreed to a third-party governance review in early 2012 because of concerns over accountability and operational reporting.

OLAP rejected the review’s suggestions, which included governance changes and an operational review, because it felt the review was biased and contained errors, says McLeod.

In June, OLAP requested a meeting with LSUC CEO Robert Lapper. “We waited for three months,” says McLeod. “We got a meeting in September that lasted five minutes and were given the letter that ended our funding.”

McLeod says lawyers may be reluctant to reach out to a for-profit company that is under contract with the regulator. But Thomas, speaking on Homewood’s behalf, says it is bound by federal privacy legislation.

Thomas says Homewood’s program has a larger counsellor network, increased resources and training, and more comprehensive online services. The national organization has two offices in Toronto and over 1,100 counsellors in Ontario.

McLeod points to the loss of the peer-to-peer counsellor network made up of 80 volunteer lawyers: “One recovering person helping another is a vital part of the recovery tool kit.” Thomas says Homewood will create a peer-to-peer program, but McLeod believes it will be hard to get lawyers — many of whom have experienced mental health issues in the past — to volunteer with a for-profit company.

He says OLAP intends to continue servicing the community. McLeod has gathered a panel of honorary patrons, including Roy McMurtry, to help attract funding.


Photo: Fancy Photography via veer.com