Legal Thoughts Induced by the Dentist’s Chair

Today I went to the dentist – an experience that most people loathe as much as going to a lawyer.

As I lounged in discomfort, I had several thoughts:

First, I knew exactly how much I was going to pay for the professional services being rendered. Most dental work is done on a fixed fee basis, no matter how long, or how little time, the procedure may take. Some work, could, as my dentist explained to me take longer, but it all balances out in the end by other quicker work.

Small legal practitioners like myself understand the concept of “it all balances out in the end” as many of us use fixed fees for a variety of work. Larger firms do not understand the concept at all.

Second, the cost of my dental work is loosely based on a fee schedule set by the dental authorities so that consumers can have some sense of the value of the procedures being offered. All provinces in Canada used to have fee schedules for legal work; it was called a tariff and it provided a guideline to consumers as to the value of all types of legal work.

We no longer have tariffs as they were seen to be anti-competitive.

However, now consumers of legal services no longer have a guideline for the value of any legal services. Professor Harry Arthurs recently suggested at the 100th anniversary of the Saskatchewan College of Law’s celebratory “Future of Law Conference” that the tariff should be brought back for this very reason – to give consumers certainty in budgeting for legal services and determine, AT THE OUTSET, if they wish to pay more for legal services than what the tariff allowed.

And as the numbing jell took effect on my gums, my mind also wandered to two forward-thinking CEOs of western Canadian law societies.

First, Tom Schonhoffer, CEO of the Law Society of Saskatchewan, is quite interested in, and open to, the changes taking place in the UK and in particular, Alternative Business Structures (ABS) – when I suggested that Saskatchewan is well placed to be the “Delaware” of Canada when it comes to these structures, his eyes lit up. Will there be a race by Canadian law societies to become the first to allow ABSs and reap the regulatory fees? Who knows, but my money is on Saskatchewan to lead the way.

Next, Allan Fineblit CEO of the Law Society of Manitoba floated the idea of replacing benchers with a small, efficient skills-based board of directors. Thereby running the law society like a real corporation – blasphemy to some, but definitely music to my ears! Fineblit was described to me by tweeting lawyer, Karen Dyck, as “One of the cool kids. He gets it.” He is and he does.

But even more heart-warming was Fineblit’s comment that many benchers believe that because they are elected by lawyers, lawyers are their constituents – in fact, they are not. Benchers are to govern in the public interest, not in the interests of lawyers who elect them, nor in the interests of other legal services stakeholders.

Ontario Benchers voting on new articling recommendations would do well to keep this last point in mind, as this concept was glaringly missing at the last Convocation.

Not a minute too soon my dental procedure was over. I paid the agreed fee and walked out, dreading my next visit but secure in the knowledge that I could budget for it.


  1. Blasphemy!

    The first thing I learned about the legal business is that all lawyers had to sell was time and thus it was pay by the hour.

    Just because dentists are smart enough to make an excellent living charging on a fee for service basis, doesn’t mean that lawyer can. Lawyers are tailors that deal with unique and specialized situations every time and adjust the legal service accordingly.

    Or something like that.

    Psst! Please keep our secret. How else will lawyers earn outsized incomes if we can’t charge by the hour? We’ve gotta keep the spouse and kids in the lifestyle to which they wished to become accustomed. You’re jeopardizing that by talking like this. Do us all a favour and be quiet!