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A slate of candidates who positioned themselves as “anti-woke” standard bearers were shut out in the recent Law Society of Ontario election — but two members of that group have since been chosen to join the board of directors.
Howard Levitt, a legal columnist for the Financial Post and an employment lawyer in Toronto, and Ryan Alford, a law professor at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., will join the board after two positions opened up again following the election.
“What most concerned me, or at least as much as the anti-woke, was the creep,” said Levitt. “I think the law society has an important role to regulate competence and protect the public from miscreant lawyers — and that’s really, in my view, all it should be doing.”
When the results of the election to the “bencher” positions were announced last week, the FullStop slate — whose tagline was “stop bloat, stop creep, stop woke” — were wiped out by the competing Good Governance Coalition.
The election had become a microcosm of the culture wars, with lawyers feuding over the role of the law society not just in professional regulation, but in its approach to equity, diversity and inclusion, and other issues that some lawyers felt were too “woke.”
“There are legitimate differences of opinion within the legal profession as to how the law society should interpret its mandate to regulate the legal profession,” said Alford. “And I think that it’s just really important that we continue to view that as something upon which reasonable people can disagree.”
Two administrative moves opened up positions on the board, which is comprised of 40 lawyers, five paralegals, and eight members of the public who are appointed by the provincial government. Alford became a bencher when Jacqueline Horvat assumed the position of treasurer, opening a spot for a non-Toronto bencher.
And Levitt became a bencher when Julia Shin Doi was appointed to become a justice of the Superior Court of Ontario. That opened up a spot for a new bencher within Toronto, and since Levitt had the most votes, he received the position.
“Primarily we’re going to serve as a reminder that there isn’t a complete unanimity of opinion within the legal profession,” said Alford. “The only attention was on the points of disagreement. But something that I tried to do during the campaign was to stress the many points of agreement.”
Levitt sees opportunities to continue pushing the topics that are important to him and the other anti-woke, anti-creep, anti-bloat candidates, even though the Good Governance benchers greatly outnumber himself and Alford.
“That doesn’t mean that everybody who ran the Good Governance slate is necessarily pro-woke, so we might have some support there that’s unheralded at this point,” said Levitt.
The attempts to limit the bloat and mission creep may yet see success.
There are hundreds of employees at the law society, said Levitt, and he believes this is the sort of staffing size that leads to an expansion of the law society’s mission.
“When they have 550 employees, (they find) lots of things to do with their time. And I don’t know that other members of the Good Governance slate won’t agree with that,” said Levitt. “The woke nonsense is just one part of where it’s gone off mission.”
Another issue Levitt wants to tackle is the size of the fees lawyers pay to the law society each year. They must pay $1,981 annually, plus HST, for a grand total of $2,238.53. If, Levitt argues, they can go through the budget line by line and try to limit spending, they might be able to cut fees.
“It isn’t much for lawyers in the big firms in downtown Toronto, it isn’t much for any lawyer that’s doing quite well,” said Levitt.
But, he said, it is for many others.
The issues where there could be success, Levitt said, are ones that the election wasn’t fought over, such as reforming the bar admission course or improving access to justice.
But, he says, he’ll still speak his mind when topics on diversity, equity and inclusion come up, and push for more transparency in meetings so that the profession at large can see what’s going on.
“I’ve reached a point in my career — I’ve been practicing for 44 years — that I’m focused more on giving back,” said Levitt.
• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: tylerrdawson
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