When young lawyers face disciplinary proceedings at the Law Society of Upper Canada, they do not face a panel of their peers.
In anticipation of the 2011 bencher elections, Precedent took a look at the current makeup of Convocation (p 15), and found that it skews heavily toward the grey-haired set. Of the 40 lawyers elected in 2007, only one was under 40 (39 to be exact), half were aged 50 to 65 and one quarter of the benchers were past retirement age when elected.
Not only is Convocation getting on in years, but it’s stale. In 2007, 70 percent of elected benchers were incumbents.
Many young lawyers yawn at the LSUC’s day-to-day business. But Convocation does more than rubber stamp — it decides how to spend the LSUC’s money, weighs in on government acts and bills and strikes task forces to look into issues affecting lawyers young and old.
While this self-regulating body must contain experienced, senior lawyers, it should also contain a representative number of junior lawyers. As it stands, it’s unlikely that any current bencher packed a laptop while at law school. Young lawyers bring a new perspective to the table: ideas of how the profession should evolve, or how to keep young women in private practice. They are also the best equipped to make decisions about admission to the bar, articling requirements and struggles lawyers face in their early years.
Benchers themselves are ushering in change. In December 2009, in a move to renew and modernize, benchers imposed term limits of 12 years and ended ex officio bencher status, limiting former treasurers’ and benchers’ participation in Convocation. And lawyers voted for gender diversity: In 2007, women were elected to 45 percent of the seats.
So what’s the holdup on the age front? First, there’s a perception that to preside at Convocation a lawyer needs to be extremely confident, experienced and well versed in LSUC rules and regulations. But in reality, most benchers learn as they go. Second, a lot of young lawyers say they are too busy learning on the job to even contemplate running. However, given the demanding careers and full slate of volunteer work that current benchers undertake — in addition to their LSUC positions — lack of time is a poor excuse.
To make the LSUC relevant to all lawyers, more young lawyers need to run and vote in bencher elections. This spring’s first fully electronic election will let candidates reach most lawyers via email, without having to pay thousands of dollars mailing out literature.
Benchers have designed a more democratic campaigning platform. Now it’s up to younger lawyers to build a more representative Convocation.
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Precedent’s publisher and editor, Melissa Kluger, is currently on maternity leave.
Photography by Daniel Ehrenworth; hair and makeup: Victoria Fedosoff