The recently elected Law Society of Ontario (LSO) board has shifted again as bencher Julia Shin Doi was appointed a judge of the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario on May 8. Her elevation to the bench opened up a seat in Toronto, which has been taken by FullStop Team candidate, Howard Levitt.
As previously reported by Law360 Canada, the LSO’s bencher election was dominated by two organized groups: the Good Governance Coalition (GGC) and the FullStop Team. On May 1, the GGC swept the election in a historic win, taking every seat.
However, even before the benchers had a chance to take office on May 25, the board changed. Assuming a position as ex officio bencher, treasurer Jacqueline Horvat’s seat went to incumbent bencher, Ryan Alford.
Upon his election, Alford, a professor at the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law at Lakehead University, was the only FullStop candidate with a seat at the table.
In an interview with Law360 Canada, Alford acknowledged that “for a short while” he would be “a lone voice from the wilderness,” but in time, he believed that more of his FullStop colleagues would join him at Convocation.
That time arrived when Justice Shin Doi’s seat went to Levitt.
Levitt, a senior partner at Levitt Sheikh, is a well-known labour and employment lawyer with over 44 years in practice. He hopes to bring his experience to Convocation and give back to the profession.
While Levitt and Alford ran against the GGC candidates, Levitt doesn’t know if everyone on the coalition was “necessarily opposed to the principles that we espoused” and believes that items at Convocation will be “determined on an issue-by-issue basis.”
“Clearly, from some of the comments of some of those who won, they do oppose us on the woke issues, but they may not oppose us, for example, on excessive spending, on focus and concentration of core competencies and on what the law society’s mission should be in terms of really disciplining lawyers that deserve to be disciplined,” he added.
“I don’t know how much opposition, if any, I’m going to have to a zero-sum budgeting approach. Let’s go through the law society’s budget, line item by line item. Let’s essentially audit the board and let’s see if there is overspending and where savings can be made to reduce law society fees for lawyers throughout the province, many of whom have difficulty paying them,” he suggested, noting that “just because there’s two different sides doesn’t mean that people on that slate don’t support some of the positions that I personally took and that our slate took.”
Levitt considered running as a bencher in 2019, but decided at the time that his practice was too busy. He’d come to the same conclusion before this election, but a lawyer at his firm, Peter Carey, suggested he go for it as the firm now has a managing partner.
“I have a little more time than I used to,” he said, noting that although he still has a busy practice, he can “make time for things that are important.”
“And also, I’ve been practising for 44 years, it’s time to move a little bit to another phase in my career, which would include this: giving back to the profession in various ways. For example, I personally made a multimillion-dollar donation to the [U of T] Faculty of Law to help them with an Indigenous studies program and to commission an Indigenous sculpture on University Avenue,” he explained.
“I’m making myself a little bit more into a senior statesman and role model within the profession than I have been historically,” he added.
His experience is exactly what he wants to bring to the table at Convocation. Levitt noted that throughout his career he’s been focused on practice rather than “professional issues,” but now is the time for a change.
“In addition to making law society fees more affordable by hopefully finding spending that’s unnecessary and reducing that so that law society fees are reduced and re-focusing the law society on what lawyers believe it should focus on, which is competence and professional conduct, and not all of the other things it gets into, there’s other issues I want to get involved in,” he said, suggesting bringing back the law society dining room with a “more modest menu.”
“Let’s persuade the attorney general to re- establish the King’s Council, what used to be the Q.C. … let’s solve access to justice. Let’s reform the bar admission course to address competency. Those are items I hope to assist others in accomplishing,” he added.
When it comes to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), a hot button issue for the FullStop Team, Levitt stressed that “every lawyer and law firm is entitled and should, if they wish to, promote the EDI line either because they believe in it, or because it’s good for business because their clients support or want to see the lawyers support it, and that’s fine.”
“My concern is forced speech and forced adherence to political programs. We’re supposed to be defending people against forced and compelled speech. So yes, I stood for that, because I believe in that, and I’ll continue to stand for that and believe in that,” he emphasized.
Levitt noted that he’s “not about to change” his “cultural and political perspectives on these issues.”
As a new bencher, Levitt hopes to “moderate what might be the otherwise worst excesses of the law society if it ends up inclining toward extreme wokeness.”
“But I’m hoping that it won’t in any event. I’m hoping their [GGC] running against us, not necessarily running to create more woke, to create a more politically correct requirements for lawyers in the province, but if they do, then I’ll be speaking against them,” he concluded, hoping that there will also be “transparency and debates” in that process and that “all lawyers can convey their own opinions.”