Over the years, Paul Schabas has navigated the Law Society of Ontario through a tumultuous and oft-controversial period of history for North America’s oldest regulator of lawyers.
One of his silent legacies, he says, will be the priority he has placed on trying to forge a closer link between the LSO and Legal Aid Ontario. In the past these two organizations have been held at arm’s reach. But recent calls for improved access to justice by advocacy groups, lawmakers, and even Chief Justice Richard Wagner himself has shifted the LSO’s attitude towards its relationship with Legal Aid Ontario. (LAO)
Earlier this year a Law Society-backed research group concluded that the LAO needs to increase accountability to stakeholders.
Among the recommendations of this group was that the Law Society should be encouraging firms to collect data on clients to increase transparency in legal aid. The group also is pushing for greater scrutiny among board nominees, so that minimum benchmarks of experience can be ensured for the people running LAO in the future.
In the near future the Law Society is expected to host public events to discuss legal aid issues in order to capture expert legal opinions to craft policy. Schabas recently told Law Times magazine that such an arrangement is a long-term achievement.
In the mid 20th century the Law Society of Upper Canada took a very active role with legal aid, but in 1998 onward regulators have stepped back in order to give the organization its own ability to govern itself. At the time, the Law Society was able to influence the organization insofar as it remained present among the board of directors.
The result was that Canada’s largest regulator of lawyers in essence disengaged from legal aid matters, according to Schabas.
Lawyers are now being told to separate their legal services in order to improve access to justice for normal Ontarians who can’t afford typical services offered by lawyers.
Schabas leaves his role as treasurer on June 28.
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