Publications

Accessibility, Quality, and Profitability for Personal Plight Law Firms: Hitting the Sweet Spot

A new book published by the Canadian Bar Association. Available free online at www.cba.org/PersonalPlight

Personal plight legal practice includes all legal work for individual clients whose needs arise from disputes. This is the site of our worst access to justice problems. The goal of this project is to identify sustainable innovations that can make the services of personal plight law firms more accessible to all Canadians.

Accessibility is vitally important, but it is not the only thing that matters in personal plight legal practice. Thus, this book seeks out innovations that not only improve accessibility, but also preserve or enhance service quality as well as law firms’ profitability. These “sweet spot” opportunities emerged from interviews with 32 personal plight legal practitioners across the country, and from an extensive review of the literature.

The first chapter of this book describes personal plight legal needs, clients, and law firms, and introduces the “sweet spot” frame of reference. The next chapters focus on practical opportunities for personal plight legal practice related to Price Certainty (Chapter 2); Deferred Payment (Chapter 3); Diversifying Services (Chapter 4); Vertical Division of Labour (Chapter 5); and Horizontal Division of Labour (Chapters 6 and 7). The concluding chapter (Chapter 8) compares the prospects for large personal plight law firms, and small ones, to pursue these innovations. Throughout, the book offers practical recommendations for personal plight law firms, and also for regulators and professional groups interested in helping those firms create sustainable access to justice. These recommendations are collected in the Appendix.

Long Live the Law Practice Program

I am struggling to understand the justification for the recent committee recommendation to end the Law Practice Program. The LPP is the Law Society’s alternative licensing program predominantly used by candidates unable to find articling positions.

The committee‘s central rationale seems to be that the LPP is “perceived as second tier.” They acknowledge that (i) “there is no evidence to suggest that the LPP is in fact second-tier” and (ii) the LPP is “of very high quality and may, in fact, excel over articling in a number of areas” in terms of preparing candidates for practice (para 59).

A regulator ending the LPP because it’s perceived as second tier to articling is like a regulator banning Chevrolets because they are perceived as second tier to Cadillacs. A regulator which does so must, at very least, have a realistic plan to ensure that everyone will be able to drive a Cadillac/get an articling position.  I can’t find any such plan in this Report.

The committee could have proposed reforms to expand the articling stream to accommodate everyone. For example they could have proposed that every licensed lawyer be required to either serve as an articling principal, or else contribute x% of his/her law practice income to a fund used to compensate lawyers who do serve as articling principals.

In the absence of any such plan, ending the LPP simply eliminates a path into the profession which is disproportionately used by equity-seeking and relatively disadvantaged candidates.  Perhaps more importantly, it also deprives equity-seeking/ disadvantaged would-be-clients of 200+ new lawyers per year who would be more likely to serve them than articling-track lawyers are.

The Report’s only other serious argument against the LPP is that we can’t decide who should pay for it. It costs roughly $17k per candidate.  At present a portion of this is absorbed by LSUC. Articling stream candidates pay a large share, due to the equalization of costs for LPP-stream and articling-stream candidates.

Who should pay is a tough problem, and there’s a convincing argument that the articling-stream candidates shouldn’t have to subsidize LPP-stream candidates to the extent that they currently do.  Personally, I think LSUC fees should be increased, and made progressive based on licensee income, in order to fund LPP and other A2J-enhancing initiatives.

But even requiring LPP candidates to pay the entire $17k per year themselves would be better than completely depriving them, and their would-be clients, of the opportunity to practice for which they have already invested so many years and so many tens of thousands of dollars.

The perception of second-tier or stigmatized status for LPP and its candidates is unfortunate. LSUC should fight this inaccurate perception, not surrender to it. But even if they can’t or won’t fight it, a professional path perceived as second tier is better than no path at all.

Male, Pale, and Stale? Diversity in Lawyers’ Regulatory Leadership

When lawyers elect the leaders of their self-regulatory organizations, what sort of people do they vote for?  How does electoral system design affect the ability of law societies and bar associations to understand and regulate a diverse legal profession? This article quantitatively assesses the demographic and professional diversity of leadership in the Law Society of Upper Canada.  After many years of underrepresentation, in 2015 non-white members and women were elected in numbers proportionate to their shares of Ontario lawyers. Regression analysis suggests that being non-white was not a disadvantage in the 2015 election, and being female actually conferred an advantage in attracting lawyers’ votes. The diverse employment contexts of the province’s lawyers were also represented in the elected group.  However early career lawyers were completely unrepresented.  This is largely a consequence of electoral system design choices, and can be remedied through the implementation of career stage constituencies.

(2016) Canadian Journal of Law and Society, Vol. 31, Issue 3, p. 405. (Peer-Reviewed). Early Draft online: SSRN, http://ssrn.com/abstract=2623743.

This research was the subject of an article in the Law Times newspaper: http://www.lawtimesnews.com/201507274832/headline-news/prof-calls-for-reforms-to-boost-youth-presence-at-convocation.