During my first few years practicing law, I heard about “benchers” and had no idea who they were. I learned a little by the ads in the OR’s (social media didn’t exist back then, yes, I know, shocker!) and figured that they were individuals who had something to do with the Law Society of Upper Canada, now known as the Law Society of Ontario.
“Bencher” was not a term I had ever heard during law school. It’s not a term that people talk about in the general public. In fact, it was not until a few years ago that I actually figured it out. I’m here to enlighten my lawyer friends who are blissfully unaware of what benchers are and perhaps any members of the public looking to enhance their legal knowledge.
The Law Society of Ontario is self-governing. This means that lawyers are responsible for governing themselves rather than being governed by a regulator or a government body. Benchers promise to protect the “public interest” through their work by promoting an ethical and skilled profession. When needed, the LSO disciplines lawyers.
Benchers form the governing body for Ontario’s 52,000 lawyers and 8,600 paralegals. Here is the Law Society Act.
A “bencher” is a member of the Board of Directors that governs the Law Society of Ontario (“LSO”). There are 8 lay benchers that are appointed by the Ontario government, 40 elected lawyer benchers (20 in Toronto and 20 outside Toronto), 5 elected paralegal benchers and several ex-officio benchers such as former Attorneys-General of Ontario and former Treasurers of the Law Society.
Voting for benchers commences mid April and ends April 30, 2019. I am unsure as to why the LSO states “mid April” and doesn’t specify an actual date. Elected benchers will take office on May 23, 2019 and hold the position for a 4-year term. Benchers are estimated to devote 31 days per year to Law Society business and they are paid $585 per day and $355 per half day, based on the 2018 rates after the first 26 days which are considered to be a “deductible”. Benchers are also reimbursed for reasonable expenses.
To hold the position as bencher is an honour and should not be taken lightly. It takes hard work, dedication and time to hold the position. If you are eligible to vote, you should receive an email from the LSO with voting instructions. You are able to vote online or by phone at a dedicated phone number. Lawyers can vote for 20 candidates within Toronto and 20 candidates outside of Toronto.
I encourage all members of the Law Society to vote during the bencher election. Yes, VOTE! If you elect not to vote, then in my opinion, you have elected not to complain of any future LSO related change if you aren’t happy with it.
For further information about the upcoming bencher election, check out the LSO’s website.