AkazakiLeePhotoVoting in the Law Society bencher elections is an act of faith performed every four years.  Most of us keep Osgoode Hall a wide berth, unless we have scheduled an appearance in court or attend a networking event.

Nevertheless, there is always a buzz in the legal media about election platforms, with candidates promising to protect lawyers’ interests.  The problem with much of this is that, under the Law Society Act, the social bargain for self-governance is that we use our efforts and resources to protect the public by promoting an ethical and skilled profession.

Contrary to public cynicism, we are not in it for ourselves.  Deep down, every last one of us went to law school because law is a helping profession and an opportunity to leverage our intellect to achieve a more just society.

Anyone promising to “advocate for the legal profession” does not know what the Law Society is about.  Seeking election to a body’s board on a false premise may win some votes, but this is inherently cynical.  If you like cynical, then nobody is stopping you from voting for such candidates.

My platform is rather simple.  It is to promote access to justice, or “A2J” as public policy nerds like myself like to call it.  Whether it is advising and representing clients on real estate deals or a day in court, A2J is the raison d’être of our calling.  Everything, from solicitor-client privilege, avoidance of conflicts of interest, client loyalty, diversity, legal skill development, non-lawyer ownership of legal firms, to a host of other questions, all stem from this core purpose.  Without A2J, the public has no need for us.  Strengthening our proud and independent profession therefore does not mean self-interest, but the reverse.  Our worth and future success depend on our relevance to the public we serve.

How does that translate into practice in the deliberations at the Law Society?  Because it is supposed to be a deliberative body, lawyers expect benchers to maintain an open mind about most things and to talk to each other despite strongly held views.  If one is a single-issue candidate, such as the members of the slate opposing the LSO diversity initiative, what can they offer beyond how they promise to vote on a hypothetical motion that may never be put to the floor?  What do they have to say about regulation in the  public interest?  Being a bencher entails a lot of work and the ability to contribute to a host of issues that cannot be summarized on a mail-out or an email blast.

Candidates should be honest and demonstrate to their constituency, you and me and all other members of the Bar, what ideas you have about making us more accessible to all Ontarians.  We must be guided by principles, not sound-bites or narrow issues.  Top of mind, for me, are three guiding ideas that I always came back to as president of the Ontario Bar Association in 2010-11, and through my involvement in the Bar since then:

  • Reach out to the public and to the law schools to raise legal literacy as a basic right and to instill in law students the idea of law as belonging, not to us or to the courts, but to the people of Ontario.  A better-informed public will seek help more often.  Assisting new lawyers to find their place within the Bar will, in turn, equip our newest members to provide that help.
  • Promote diversity in the legal profession as an engine of access to justice.  Many new Canadians and members of under-lawyered communities are afraid to hire lawyers or refrain from seeking legal advice.  If lawyers do not come from or live and work in communities, it is hard for people to seek the help of a lawyer.  Lawyers from under-represented communities are also the most likely to give back to those who helped them become lawyers.  Diversity in the legal profession, combined with community service, represents an untapped solution to at least some of the A2J deficit.
  • Although technology and regulated changes to physical architecture have vastly improved the inclusion of people with disabilities, the legal profession should be more cognizant of the need to accommodate lawyers with disabilities in the mainstream practice of law.  They need more than sympathy from able-bodied members – more listening and more action are required.
  • Provide guidance and clarity to the relationship between the Law Society and its members, by clamping down on unethical marketing practices and helping lawyers across Ontario with access to library and educational facilities.  The more skilled and professional we are, the better we can restore the trust the public once placed in us.

If you share my thoughts and ideas for the profession’s path into the 21st century, please consider voting for me.  However you cast your vote on April 30, now is the time to contemplate the future of the legal profession as the place you want it to be, for decades to come.

My Position on Issues:

  • Uphold Diversity and the Statement of Principles.  A duty to promote diversity is not mind-control.  It is every lawyer’s duty of engagement in a multicultural society.  To the extent the profession can lessen economic barriers to entry into to the career of law, the profession should do so combined with active recruitment within underrepresented communities.
  • Small firm and sole practitioners: We need support, not scrutiny.
  • County and District Libraries are the lifeline for maintaining competence across Ontario.  On-line legal resources to hands-on support from law librarians are key to levelling the playing field.
  • CPD: As Chair of the Ontario Bar Association’s CLE Committee in 2008-09 and as President of the OBA in 2010-11, I oversaw major changes to the delivery of CPD across the province, including effective use of webinar technology.  Access and affordability are essential in an age of mandatory CPD.
  • Discipline: We have to make the legal profession a safe space for everyone.  It is our workplace.  There is no room for bullies, racists and sexists, who hide behind a mask of “zealous advocacy.”
  • Fees: Law Society fees are a hardship for some, and a pocket change for others.  As we move toward a world of entity regulation, the cost to each member is a topic that we must start talking about.
  • Pro bono and Low-Bono.  As a long-serving and award-winning adviser to Justicenet.ca, I know the challenges of helping clients of modest means find lawyers who will help them.  The Law Society must find a way to support the pro bono infrastructure of our profession.  I support a levy increasing our current $1/member contribution to $10/member, to fully fund the Pro Bono Ontario Law Help Centre.  To the extent the Law Society can influence Legal Aid, I support  certificate-based (i.e. fee-paying) legal aid services in criminal and family law.
  • Operations: Having volunteered on Law Society Committees, including the Barrister Advisory Group, I believe the Law Society’s operations are and have been in good hands.  Every institution has its problems.  But those who complain incessantly about the Law Society, even some candidates for bencher, need to offer sensible solutions.
  • Licensing: The NCA and LPP programs have proven there are more than one way to produce competent, thoughtful lawyers.  Once you’re a member, it is the quality of your work and your integrity that count more than anything.  Paralegals are now an integral part of the Ontario legal system.  Nevertheless, we must recognize that only a full legal education can qualify a professional to provide full representation of vulnerable clients in areas such as family law.

Bio:

Partner with the firm of Gilbertson Davis LLP.  Trial and appellate counsel in a wide range of civil litigation matters, including commercial civil litigation and arbitration, insurance law, professional responsibility and legal ethics, privacy and personal information, cyber law, personal injury, property damage, coverage disputes, and property title defence. Litigation prevention and compliance counsel to a national insurance services network.  Fluently bilingual and pleads in both English and French. 

Education and Qualifications

Certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as a Specialist in Civil Litigation in 2000.  Called to the Bar in 1990, B.A. (Hons.) and J.D. from the University of Toronto.

Awards

  • 2018 Co-Recipient,  Joel Kuchar Award for Professionalism and Civility, Ontario Bar Association.
  • 2014 Recipient, JusticeNet Patron Council Award for promotion of access to justice.
  • 2013 Recipient, OBA Linda Adlam Manning Award for Volunteerism in service to the legal profession.

Professional and Community Activities

Past-President of the Ontario Bar Association (OBA), 2011-12.  Administrator and Chair of Selection Committee, OBA Chief Justice of Ontario Fellowships, 2013-14.  OBA Awards Committee 2015 and 2016.  Trustee, OBA Foundation, 2012-present.  OBA President, 2010-11.  Member of Board of Directors, Canadian Bar Association (CBA), 2010-11.   CBA Fee Review Committee, 2010-12.  Keynote Speaker, American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division Meeting, 2011.  Chair, OBA Governance Committee, 2009-10.  Chair of the Civil Litigation Section of the OBA and the Chair of the OBA Main CLE Committee, 2008-09.  CBA Civil Litigation Section Executive, 2008-09.  Co-Chair, Civil Litigation programmes for the 2006, 2007 and 2009 OBA CLE Institute, co-author of the report of the OBA Task Force on Civil Justice Reform, member of the Ministry of the Attorney General’s Justice Partners Advisory Committee, Ontario delegate to the Uniform Law Conference of Canada, and Co-Chair of the 2008 Apology Act Working Group, and co-chair of a programme for International Womens’ Day, 2009, called Does Gender Matter?  Co-chair of CBA Civil Litigation Section CLE programme for CBA’s 2010 Canadian Legal Conference.  Member, Board of Directors of Canadian Defence Lawyers, 2011-18.  Member, Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice.  Founding member of the LSUC’s Barrister Advisory Group, 2005-09.  Twice elected to the Council of the Medico-Legal Society of Toronto, and served as chair of its Outreach Committee. Compulsory Moot Court course supervisor at the Faculty of Law, University of Toronto.  Mock Trial Coach, University of Toronto Schools.  Presented legal topics in the community, at the Ontario Justice Education Network Summer Law Institute, OBA Law Day, and various Toronto-area Public, Catholic and French schools.

Publications

Published chapter on causation in cyber-torts in the 2017 Annual Review of Civil Litigation.  Author of leeakazaki.com, a Newstex syndicated blog on law and professionalism.  Winner, CLawBies 2014 Best Practice Management Blog.  Runner-up, CLawBies 2012 Best Law Blog Award.  Winner of CLawBies 2011 Award for Best New Law Blog.  Author, “The Accidental Mentor,” a monthly column for the Canadian Lawyer at canadianlawyermag.com (2012-13).  Numerous articles published in The Advocates Quarterly, JUST., Briefly Speaking, The Medico-Legal Journal of the United Kingdom, The Medical Post, The Journal of the Patent & Trademark Office Society of the United States, Copyright World, Without Prejudice, Top Broker, Social Science Research Network, and The Lawyers Weekly.  Several articles cited as authority in legal and academic journals.

Shortlists of other Candidates I am endorsing in the election:

Candidates from Toronto
Jeff Cowan
Orlando Da Silva
Signa Daum Shanks
Julian Falconer
Jayashree Goswami
Barbara Hendrickson
Paul Le Vay
Isfahan Merali
Malcolm Mercer
Caryma Sa’d
Robert Shawyer
Julia Shin Doi
Outside Toronto
François N. Baril
Fred Bickford
Jack Braithwaite
Rebecca Bromwich
Paul M. Cooper
Douglas W. Judson
Stephen Rastin
Quinn M. Ross
Raj Sharda
Cheryl Siran
Andrew Spurgeon
Jerry B. Udell

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