The LPP lives on

A mere two months ago, the Law Practice Program was clinging to life. The Professional Development Committee at the Law Society of Upper Canada had released a two-year study of the new program and made this recommendation: scrap it.

But the profession fought back. More than 130 letters swamped the Law Society. And the vast majority demanded that the committee reverse its decision to kill the LPP, a coursework-based alternative to articling, taught in English at Ryerson University and in French at the University of Ottawa. (Precedent, too, argued that scrapping the LPP would be a “bullshit move.”) By late October, such strong blowback coaxed the committee into issuing a new report. That one recommended keeping the LPP for at least two more years.

And at Convocation yesterday morning, the benchers voted to do precisely that.

“All of us have been informed by the views we’ve heard,” said Peter Wardle, chair of the Professional Development Committee, in his remarks to Convocation. “I actually think we’ve arrived, though perhaps in a circuitous fashion, in a very good place.”

In broad strokes, he explained his committee’s about-face. To start, he said the committee heard from both students and lawyer-mentors who participated in the LPP and raved about its quality. Wardle added that it would be “defeatist” to cancel the program so early in its existence on the grounds that it stigmatizes students who take it instead of articling.

The debate was brisk, and ended after about an hour.

But two first-term benchers — Joe Groia and Rocco Galati — used the occasion to voice contrarian viewpoints.

“If we continue this program, we are creating another 500 candidates who will go through the rest of their professional life with the stigma that comes from the fact that they went through the LPP,” said Groia, a controversial lawyer who remains embroiled in a legal dispute with the Law Society. (He is currently fighting a ruling that that he violated the Law Society’s courtroom civility rules during a trial almost two decades ago.) “Not withstanding our best hopes and wishes, that’s not going to change.”

Galati then made the case that articling itself is “racist” and should be abolished. “I want to talk about a couple elephants in the room,” he began. “For the last 50 years, the legal profession has had a healthy racist, exclusionary practice against whatever racialized groups are coming up through the profession at the time. Talk to any Jewish lawyer who came through in the 50s and the 60s, and they’ll tell you they couldn’t get articling jobs. If you talk to any of us who are Italian, we’ll tell you that, up until 30 years ago, it was the same thing.”

He didn’t say it outright, but he seemed to be referring to the fact that many racialized students, after getting shut out of the articling process, have turned to the LPP. In 2015, for instance, 18 percent of articling students in Ontario were racialized — in the LPP, that number shoots up to 32 percent.

“The real problem is articling itself,” said Galati. “Let’s eliminate that preliminary gate of exclusion.”

So what’s next? Well, the LPP will continue for two years. In the meantime, the Professional Development Committee will come up with a game plan to launch a full investigation into the entire lawyer-licensing process. It will present that plan to Convocation in the first quarter of 2017.


For more on the Law Practice Program, visit PrecedentJD.com to find out what two former LPP students thought of the program.

How to vote in the bencher election

At exactly 5 p.m. on Thursday, the bencher election will be over. 

That moment will mark the end of the 17-day voting period — and, in turn, the end of the incessant email blasts from candidates, each message trumpeting their policy stances and footnoted with a laundry list of endorsements. 

Though the campaign has been tedious, the election is critical. The next cohort of 40 benchers at the Law Society of Upper Canada will shape the profession for years to come. Over the course of their four-year terms, the benchers will have to determine, for instance, whether to let non-lawyers invest in law firms and the very future of articling. 

So, if you want those benchers to reflect your viewpoint, you have to vote. And, as the following primer on the voting process will show, doing so is both fast and easy. 

How to vote 

For starters, the bencher election takes place online, through a third-party website hosted by Computershare. 

To log in to the election’s webpage — found here — you need your unique passcode, which Computershare should have emailed to you a few weeks ago. (You may have also received it by mail.) 

So here’s your first step: dig in to your inbox for an April 13 email from Computershare. There, you’ll find your passcode. (If you can’t locate such an email, check your spam folder. And if that fails, call Computershare at 1-888-344-2805 to request a passcode.) 

Then, once you have logged in, all you have to do is vote. You can cast up to 40 votes — 20 for candidates inside Toronto and 20 for candidates elsewhere in the province. 

Click submit, and you’re done: consider you democratic rights exercised. 

Who to vote for 

With a forest of 97 candidates to choose from, casting an informed vote is a demanding task. But it can be done. 

Over at the Precedent A-List, you can browse the platforms of a wide range of candidates. Or, for a full lay of the land, the Law Society has published a huge voting guide, with a page on every lawyer vying for a seat at Convocation. 

For die-hard politicos, check out Precedent’s coverage of the demographic make-up of the current set of benchers. Plus, see below for stories on a few noteworthy candidates:

 

Joe_Groia_ZealousAdvocacy

 

Joe Groia — the arch nemesis of the Law Society —
is running for bencher. Find out why

 

 

Janet-Leiper

 

Bencher Janet Leiper launches a joint campaign with first-time
candidate Isfahan Merali to help promote a fresh legal voice

Why Joe Groia is running for bencher

JOE GROIA SCUTTLES INTO THE BOARDROOM of his Bay Street law office in a hurry. He’s fifteen minutes late for our 9 a.m. interview.

“Hello, I’m Joe Groia,” he says, hand outstretched. “Give me one moment. I’m just going to grab a cup of coffee.”

Already seated at the boardroom table, I reach down into my briefcase and pluck out my notepad. By the time I look up, Groia is back, closing the door behind him, coffee mug in hand. The grizzled securities lawyer lowers himself into a chair at the head of the table and rests his hands in his lap.

In a relaxed, soft-spoken voice, he explains his eyebrow-raising decision to run, in April, to be one of the 40 lawyers elected as a bencher at the Law Society of Upper Canada. After all, this is an institution against which he has waged a heated, and very public, court battle for the better part of the last decade.

In 2011, after a drawn-out investigation, the Law Society ruled that Groia violated its courtroom civility rules for his behaviour, now more than 15 years ago, at the trial of John Felderhof, a Bre-X Minerals geologist charged with insider trading and publishing misleading press releases. (In 2007, Groia won an acquittal for Felderhof on all charges.) During that trial, the judge never reprimanded Groia, but another judge later wrote that Groia launched “attacks on the prosecutor’s integrity” and his submissions sometimes “descended from legal argument to irony to sarcasm to petulant invective.”

Groia has fought that ruling tooth-and-nail, sinking $1 million into his defence, in both time and legal fees. And yet, so far, he has lost at every turn — the latest defeat coming last week, when Ontario’s Divisional Court upheld his one-month suspension and a previous order that he pay the Law Society $200,000 in costs. (He is in the process of asking for leave to challenge the ruling at the Court of Appeal and, if necessary, will go all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.)

Groia says that the Law Society, by going after him, has sent a chilling message to all lawyers that the Law Society can swoop down at any time and charge them for past courtroom behaviour — even if the trial judge never complained.

And so, Groia wants to serve as a bencher, in part, to curb the Law Society’s ability to retroactively police lawyers.

“I will fight this for as long and as hard as I can,” he says, leaning back in his chair. “Running for bencher is what I see as a logical extension of what I’ve done so far.” (For the record, Groia’s candidacy is well within the rules: he can run for bencher as long as he isn’t suspended “at the time” he signs his nomination form or on the day of the election.)

Groia is also baffled that his case seems to rank so high on the Law Society’s to-do list. “The Law Society demonstrates a zealousness in my prosecution, which surprisingly they don’t seem to demonstrate when it comes to lawyers who steal money from trust accounts,” he says, referring to a recent Toronto Star investigation that showed how the Law Society often fails to report the crimes of its members to police. (Earlier this year, LSUC treasurer Janet Minor met with Police Chief Bill Blair to improve relations.) “I can’t explain,” Groia adds, “how 40 very smart, well-educated professionals cannot, as a group, understand how far away from the needs of the public they have become.”

When given an opportunity to respond to Groia’s criticisms, Law Society spokesperson Susan Tonkin simply said that last week’s decision at Divisional Court, where Groia lost his appeal, “speaks for itself.”

 

GROIA WAS BORN IN 1954 AND GREW UP AT BLOOR AND LANSDOWNE. His mother worked at the post office and his father was a bellman. “Joe was fond of telling us, in the old days, the tale of his father who was the head bellhop of the Royal York hotel,” recalls Julia Dublin, a securities lawyer who worked under Groia at the Ontario Securities Commission, where he ran the enforcement branch in the 1980s. “It was a big influence on his life, I think.”

Indeed, Groia is proud of his “working-class” upbringing, believing that it gave him perspective and empathy. But he also recognizes that, in the legal profession, it’s much easier for young layers to land a big-firm job if they come from a rich family. “What I have realized is that when you come from a working-class family, and you don’t have the social network of a UCC [Upper Canada College] grad, you’re not seen as valuable of a hire because you aren’t seen as someone who can bring in business.”

His sensitivity to that inherent classism in the profession continues to inform his view of the legal world — and, by extension, his bencher platform, which touches on a range of issues, not just civility.

For instance, he wants to ban unpaid articling jobs — unless the firm promises not to charge clients for the student’s work. “What you’re not allowed to do, in my view, is have somebody come and work, don’t pay them, and then bill them out and make other people pay for their service,” he says, speaking firmly. “It’s shameful.” (This past year, there were about 50 unpaid articling positions across Ontario.) And Groia feels the same way about the work placements that students complete as part of the Law Practice Program — an initiative he otherwise supports as “the best solution on the table” to deal with the declining number of articling jobs.

Groia is also “absolutely in favour of Alternative Business Structures” — that is, allowing non-lawyers to own and invest in law firms. Not because he thinks it will improve access to justice or spur innovation in the law, but because, as far as he can tell, the corporatization of the legal economy has already occurred.

“The reality is, the large white-shoe firms operate as sophisticated businesses with sophisticated management structures,” he says, pointing out the fact that mega-firm Dentons is now made up of more than 6,500 lawyers. “I gotta tell you, I don’t see any real difference between a 3,000-lawyer partnership and an ABS with 3,000 shareholders and employees.”

And Groia does not feel any nostalgia for the smaller, tight-knit partnerships of earlier generations. “We all talk about the good old days when there were 12 partners, and you sat around the table and smoked cigars and there were no women in the room,” he says. Then, squinting his eyes, he adds: “I’m not quite sure why that’s the good old days.”

 

ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, Groia thinks the bencher election, at least for him, will amount to a referendum on his civility charges.

And, if that’s the case, he’s hopeful. Over the years, he says plenty of lawyers have come up to him in the halls of the courthouse to express support for how he handled himself during his legal troubles.

One such example is David Sterns, a partner at Sotos LLP and the second vice president at the Ontario Bar Association, who has publicly endorsed Groia’s candidacy. “When I ask myself why do I support him, it’s really because he’s shown character in the face of adversity,” he says. “He’s waged a lonely and costly battle with the regulator. And that takes a lot of character. It takes perseverance. I’m sure it’s been hell.”

And yet, all Groia has at the moment are those sorts of anecdotes. After the election, he’ll finally have some proof.

“If I lose the election, that will be it,” Groia says, matter-of-factly. “Then the profession will have said, ‘We don’t share Joe’s concerns. We don’t share Joe’s values.’ And life will go on.”

After close to an hour of chatting, Groia, still relaxed, calmly tells me he has to run to another meeting. With a plan in the works to appeal the decision against him once more, he is scheduled to talk strategy with his own lawyer, Earl Cherniak, a veteran litigator at Lerners LLP.

The moment we say goodbye, he springs out of his chair, darts out of the room and turns to his assistant. “Did you let him know I’ll be late?”


Read more of our 2015 Bencher Election coverage:

Janet-Leiper

 

Bencher Janet Leiper launches a joint campaign with first-time
candidate Isfahan Merali to help promote a fresh legal voice

 

 


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