Barreau de l'Ontario (French)
|Purpose||Advocate and public voice, educator and network|
130 Queen Street West,
|Affiliations||Federation of Law Societies of Canada|
|The Law Society of Upper Canada (1797-2018)|
The Law Society of Ontario (LSO; French: Barreau de l'Ontario) is the law society responsible for the self-regulation of lawyers and paralegals in the Canadian province of Ontario. Founded in 1797 as The Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC; French: Barreau du Haut-Canada), the society adopted its current name after a majority vote by its governing body in November 2017. The change was formalized on May 8, 2018, by amendment to provincial legislation.
The Law Society was created in 1797 to regulate the legal profession in the British colony of Upper Canada and is the oldest self-governing body in North America. Its first home was at Wilson's Hotel at Gate and Queen Streets in Newark (now Valumart store in Niagara-on-the-Lake), then from 1799 to 1832 at various temporary locations at York (Toronto) until Osgoode Hall was built in 1832. The Law Society continued to retain its original name, even though Upper Canada ceased to exist as a political entity in 1841. The Society governed the legal profession in the coterminous Canada West from 1841 to 1867, and in Ontario since confederation in 1867.
The Law Society of Upper Canada's creation by an act of the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada came some 20 years before the earliest such self-governing association in any other Canadian province or territory. Its creation was an innovation in the English-speaking world, and it became the model for law societies across Canada and the United States. It is one of the oldest law societies in the English-speaking world.
In 1994, the Law Society affirmed its role by adopting this Role Statement: "The Law Society of Upper Canada exists to govern the legal profession in the public interest by ensuring that the people of Ontario are served by lawyers who meet high standards of learning, competence and professional conduct, and upholding the independence, integrity and honour of the legal profession, for the purpose of advancing the cause of justice and the rule of law."
The Law Society faced calls to change the name Upper Canada. Benchers have voted to drop the name and replace it with a new one. On November 2, 2017, the Society's governing body (Convocation) chose "Law Society of Ontario" as the new name. The name change was made official following amendments to the Law Society Act as part of the 2018 provincial budget implementation bill.
In 2019, the Law Society rejected a controversial new regulation requiring all lawyers and paralegals to abide by a statement supporting diversity and inclusion, suggesting the measure was an example of compelled speech, which drew a backlash from some lawyers and journalists and applause from others.
The Law Society regulates the more than 50,000 lawyers in Ontario. It is responsible for ensuring that lawyers are both ethical and competent. The Society has the power to set standards for admission into the profession. It is empowered to discipline lawyers who violate those standards. Available sanctions range from admonitions to disbarment. It is based in Toronto, at Osgoode Hall.
Effective May 1, 2007, as a result of amendments to Ontario's Law Society Act, the Law Society regulates more than 8,000 paralegal licensees in Ontario. Paralegals are licensed to provide limited legal services, such as providing representation before provincial tribunals.
The Law Society Tribunal is an independent adjudicative tribunal within the Law Society of Ontario that processes, hears and decides regulatory cases about Ontario lawyers and paralegals. It was formally created on March 12, 2014, to improve the Law Society's hearing process. The Tribunal's core values are fairness, quality, transparency and timeliness. It decides a variety of kinds of cases, including alleged misconduct by lawyers and paralegals, whether applicants to be lawyers and paralegals have the required good character to be granted a licence, and alleged incapacity due to health reasons.
Tribunal adjudicators, who include benchers and other lawyer, paralegal and lay appointees, are tasked with coming to decisions that are fair, just and in the public interest. Orders, upcoming hearings, and reasons for decisions are all publicly available.
David A. Wright is the current Chair of the Law Society Tribunal. Vice-Chairs are Raj Anand (Hearing Division) and Christopher D. Bredt (Appeal Division).
Due to COVID-19, most tribunals were held over the telephone.
The Law Society is headed by a Treasurer. He or she is selected by the benchers, who comprise "Convocation" - in effect, the Society's board of directors, as the Society is an Ontario Corporation without share capital. All lawyer-benchers are elected by the Society's members, and eight lay benchers are appointed by the provincial government. The current Treasurer is Teresa Donnelly (elected on June 26, 2020), and the current CEO of the Law Society is Diana Miles.
Section 12(2) of the Law Society Act, R.S.O. 1990, provides that the Attorney General of Ontario is a bencher of Convocation, while section 13(1) provides that the Attorney General is the "Guardian of the Public Interest" and, as such, may require the production of any document or thing possessed by the regulator. The regulator falls under the supervision of the Ministry of the Attorney General, according to the ministry's web site.