Do We Really Want New Voices at the Table?

Then let’s make the effort to find them and vote for them.

It’s election season at law societies across Canada

In the coming months, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Ontario lawyers will elect the governors of their respective law societies and some change is inevitable. In Ontario, 17 of 40 incumbents are not running so the prospect of substantial change is very real. But whether it is a change of make-up or merely a change of bodies could depend entirely on the efforts voting lawyers put into learning about the candidates.

Quebec has a very long election season – opening in December and leaving candidates until April 7th to put their names forward. The Barreau du Quebec also has an impressive site that provides linked profiles for candidates as they register. Great info about the candidates with just a few clicks and plenty of time to review it. Nova Scotia runs a staged process, with 10 regional candidates elected first, then 3 province-wide candidates after that. In Nova Scotia, there are 15 candidates total for the regional positions (two of which have already been acclaimed), leaving 13 for 8 positions. A small number to review, but with 5 of the 13 candidates holding QCs, I suspect the number of unknown candidates is quite small.

Then we have Ontario. Oh….Ontario.

97 candidates!!!

Lawyer members of the Law Society of Upper Canada will elect forty Benchers in April – twenty from within Toronto and twenty from outside Toronto. The only place (for now) you will find the names of all of these people in one place is on the Law Society site, and in the embedded picture below.

Click on the image to see the list at full size.


This list is only slightly smaller than the 2011 candidate list, but that doesn’t make it any easier to research candidates and identify new voices.

Would it surprise you to know that in 2011, although lawyers were each permitted to cast up to forty ballots (for up to twenty in and up to twenty outside Toronto candidates), the averages were far lower? Even the most enthusiastic voters (Toronto lawyers) cast only an average 9 votes for Toronto candidates and a measly average of 5 votes for outside Toronto candidates.

Consider those numbers alongside a sub-40% voter turn-out and you arguably have an election profile where most people are only motivated to vote for those they know. More charitably, the numbers could suggest a strategy among voters to improve the election odds of their top candidates by not adding too many votes to their second tier choices. Either way you look at it, most voters did not set out to support a large number of qualified candidates.

We can do better in 2015

If ever there was a time where lawyers were of a common type and shared a common experience, those days are long gone. Increasing diversity of lived experience among new lawyers, and expanding diversity of professional opportunities available to lawyers represents the new normal. We are all far more likely to carve out a unique path of learning and practice than to share a fully common experience with other members of the bar.

A diverse legal profession will also approach current challenges from very different perspectives, and that diversity needs to be reflected in those we elect to oversee our law societies. We have a better chance of getting that result if we look at and vote for more than a handful of candidates.

The leadership we need can be found in that list of 97 candidates. I’ve spent the time trying to figure out who these candidates are and what they might bring to the table. I’m incredibly excited by the mix of seasoned Bencher veterans and new voices that we might see after the ballots are counted on April 30th.

I suspect that over the coming weeks, it will become a little bit easier to learn about the candidates. It shouldn’t be necessary to run 97 Google searches. In the meantime, if you are serious about finding new voices and getting them to the decision-making table, I encourage you to follow the #LSBencher tag on Twitter, return often to the ever-growing Law Times candidate profile page, and let others, including Slaw readers, know where to find information about candidates.


  1. I see Joe Groia is in the running. Good for him!

  2. Update:

    The Law Society of Upper Canada has just published its voting guide:

    All candidate biographies and statements in one place.

    Check it out, share the link with your colleagues, print a copy and hand it those disinclined to skim the PDF and then watch your inbox for further communication from the Law Society about the voting process.

    No excuses, Ontario lawyers. It’s on you to build the Law Society you want by educating yourself about the candidates and then voting.

  3. When I wrote this post 2 months ago, I was concerned about the barriers inherent in the LSUC voting process to identifying and voting for new, qualified candidates. Concerned, but still hopeful we could do better.

    In a post on Slaw today, guest blogger and recent call Alan Cliff articulately laments “LSUC’s Vexing Voting Scheme”.

    Alan offers the shocking observation that makes the problem abundantly clear:

    “To take even a quick look at each candidate’s materials (often including a website, email solicitation, and brochure) requires a time commitment that few lawyers can be expected to undertake. Two minutes per candidate, times 95 candidates, times 46,000 eligible voters, is over 145,000 hours. By way of comparison, this is more than a quarter of the total time that Ontario lawyers contributed to pro bono work in 2009. (Jamie Baxter and Albert Yoon, The Geography of Civil Legal Services in Ontario, November 2011, at p. 71).
    With such a large field, voters (those who aren’t discouraged entirely!) necessarily turn to other, cruder metrics for making decisions. Name recognition. Endorsements. Association with big firms or government. While each of these might be a legitimate factor to consider, they shouldn’t be dispositive. Convocation has been criticized as being too cozy, and the current election system doesn’t help by encouraging voting shortcuts.”

    Today also brought news that voter turnout is trending LOWER than in 2011, as a percentage of eligible voters and even in raw numbers.

    Last chance Ontario lawyers, this is on you. Don’t let us down.

  4. I found that in an hour or so, I could do a pretty conscientious (in my own view) review of the candidates and what they were up to. I have a few criteria in mind, not set in stone, that helps judge and choose or eliminate – intelligence, public spiritedness, diversity, competence of written advocacy, etc – and a couple of positional issues such as on ABS. I ended up with a list of about 18 out-of-Toronto folks and 22 in Toronto, so I cut a couple of the latter and filled out my ballot.

    If I had wanted to read all the websites etc, it would have taken a lot longer – but not everybody needs following-up on.

    I was very impressed by the variety and high calibre of the candidates. A LOT of very good people are candidates.

    I don’t think that regionally specialized voting would be such an economy of effort that significantly more people would vote, compared to the loss of being able to review who will represent us from across the province. The system is not broken, and it’s not the voting system that causes apathy, and fixing the technology (if it’s broken) won’t cure apathy.

    if people care about who the Benchers are, this is the chance to demonstrate it. It is not an acceptable excuse to say ‘it was too hard’ to fix a problem that someone alleges is serious.

    Let’s face it, if a lawyer doesn’t know or is not interested in candidates from out of his or her area, he or she can simply not vote for them, and restrict his or her own voting to the region. In other words, there can be voluntary regional specialization, but a mandatory rule would not be a good idea.