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Reflecting on my first term as the LSO Treasurer

Reflecting on my first term as the LSO Treasurer

By: Teresa Donnelly, Treasurer | June 23, 2021

As I embark on my second term as Treasurer of the Law Society of Ontario (LSO), I would like to thank all licensees, LSO benchers and staff, justice sector stakeholders and partners for working together with me over the past year on a number of important matters for the legal professions and the public that we serve. As I look ahead to my second term, this juncture provides me with an opportunity to reflect on some of my key activities since becoming Treasurer in June 2020. This includes responding to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, engagement of the legal professions, with a particular focus on the importance of mental health and wellness and advancing equality, diversity, and inclusion in the legal professions.

COVID-19 pandemic

The profound effects of the COVID-19 pandemic overshadowed much of 2020. However, the Law Society, under the leadership of CEO Diana Miles and with the support of benchers and staff, successfully responded to these unprecedented challenges. Like many organizations around the world, we rose to the occasion, acting swiftly to safeguard employees, licensees, and members of the public and migrated to a new way of working. Through the use of technologies for videoconferencing and other forms of digital collaboration, we ensured that the Law Society continued to fulfill its mandate to regulate Ontario’s lawyers and paralegals in the public interest.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the LSO has responded to members’ and the publics’ needs by developing and updating over 70 online FAQs to address new practice management challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. These are hosted in the COVID-19 section of the website which has had over 1.4 million pageviews since its launch in May 2020. We’ve also provided support to licensees with specific questions, through our Practice Management Helpline, provided coaching and advice through the Coach and Advisor Network, and we developed a series of complimentary CPD programs designed to help licensees navigate their practices through the pandemic.

Our support of members also included support with regulatory requirements. For CPD hours, the LSO removed the six-hour maximum limit that applied to watching an archived program without a colleague, teaching, and professional writing. We deferred the withdrawal of annual fee payments for members on the monthly payment plan; delayed administrative suspensions and late fees and we approved an Annual Fee COVID-19 Deferral Option enabling eligible licensees who have experienced a significant financial impact due to the pandemic to defer their 2021 annual fees.

For licensing candidates, we transitioned from a traditional, in-person, paper-based model to an online, remote-proctored delivery model. As of June 11, 2021, we have successfully delivered over 10,819 individual online paralegal and lawyer licensing examinations. We also implemented an administrative call process so new licensees can begin their professional careers without delay.

Outreach activities

Engagement with Law Society members has been a priority for me, in my role as Treasurer. Licensees are important partners to us as we move forward with our strategic priorities and initiatives. Engaging with lawyers, paralegals, law students and paralegal candidates helps me understand how the Law Society can ensure appropriate support of members and what challenges their clients face.

Over the course of the past year, I have presented at 38 law and paralegal firms and associations; 35 law schools and paralegal colleges; 11 Law Society-hosted Equity Education Legal Series events; 11 Law Society-organized Regional and sector-specific Roundtables, and presided over three awards ceremonies, for a total of 98 engagements. These figures do not capture the countless one-on-one meetings and activities that I participated in nor the CPD Programs I have been involved in including the Mental Health Summit and the 12-Minute Paralegal Programs. All of these outreach activities have been wonderful opportunities to build connections, share information and updates and learn from one another.

Mental health and wellness

As Treasurer, recognizing and supporting the mental health and well-being of lawyers, paralegals and students is a priority for me.  As legal professionals who serve others, our work can pose real challenges to our mental health and wellness. For many legal practitioners, these challenges have multiplied as a result of the pandemic.  Many of us are left feeling isolated, overwhelmed, and anxious. 

It is important to note that a key support and resource for Law Society licensees, law students, paralegal candidates, licensing candidates and eligible family members is the Member Assistance Program (MAP). MAP provides members with a full range of professional, free, confidential services, including counselling, peer-to-peer support, crisis management services, as well as interactive online resources. Although it is funded by the Law Society and LawPRO, it is independent and confidential.

To learn more about these and other supports and resources, I encourage you to review the Law Society website at LSO.ca/YourSource and to share this information across your networks and communication channels.

In May, I co-hosted the Law Society’s inaugural Mental Health for Legal Professionals Summit, which can be accessed on demand. The Summit provided attendees with an opportunity to hear directly from legal professionals who have lived mental health experience about how they tackled these issues in their professional lives. The program is free of charge for both licensees and members of the public and is eligible for up to eight EDI Professionalism Hours. 

Although our work puts us at higher risk than the general public to suffer from mental health issues such as anxiety, stress, depression and addiction, we do not have a clear, current, evidence-based understanding of mental health and addiction issues facing lawyers, paralegals and law/paralegal students in Ontario or across Canada. 

In June, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, and the Université de Sherbrooke, in collaboration with provincial law societies and the Canadian Bar Association launched a National Well-Being Study. The study will provide us with national data, so that Canadian law societies will better understand the issues involving legal professionals, and so that any recommendations to address them will be evidence-based. The study includes a national survey that I hope all lawyers, paralegals, and eligible students will complete as soon as possible. For more information, please visit my recent Blog on supporting mental well-being of legal professionals.

Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion

Ensuring equality, diversity and inclusion within the legal professions is a fundamental component of the Law Society’s mandate. Ensuring diversity not only promotes the public interest but also furthers access to justice.  Over the past year, as a community we have witnessed a number of acts of hate, racism, and discrimination. Racism and discrimination undermine justice and the rule of law. As legal professionals, we have responsibilities in regard to pursuit of justice. As Treasurer, I am committed to equality, diversity, and inclusion initiatives, and to combatting homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Asian, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and violence, discrimination, and racism of any kind. 

The term ahead

I am honoured to serve for another term as Treasurer and am grateful to my bencher colleagues for placing their trust and confidence in me. We accomplished a lot together in the past year and I, for one, am entering the summer season with renewed optimism toward the future.

I call on you to keep this conversation going; participate in the Law Society’s consultations and activities - specifically the Competence Consultation that commenced on June 23 and closes November 30, 2021; visit our website, to learn more and access our many resources; follow the activities of Convocation and watch its webcast; send us your feedback; read our Licensee Update; follow us on social media; and, reach out to me at Treasurer@LSO.ca to schedule a virtual visit to your firm, association, paralegal college or law school.

Have a fun, relaxing and safe summer! Looking forward to reconnecting in the fall.
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