December 2016
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Oh wait, isn’t the title of this week’s post the way that song goes? I suppose it’s not, but it could be.

Ah, the holidays. Yes, all of them, not just Christmas, Channukah & Kwanza – all of them. Nothing brings out good will towards all in some and the worst behaviour ever in others. As unpleasant as some family members can be during holiday meals, it is more than just “annoying” when it enters the workplace: it’s a problem that can lead to liability and needs to be addressed before it occurs.

The Ontario Human Rights code prohibits harassment and discrimination in the workplace on the basis of religion and creed. Offend the wrong person in your office and you could be looking at a Human Rights Complaint – not much jolliness in that. So, how do you avoid that particular land mine? First, ensure your business has a workplace anti-discrimination and harassment policy. Second, actually enforce it.

This does not mean you ban saying Merry Christmas in the workplace. It does mean that you don’t force employees who don’t want to participate, into participating in Christmas themed events. In our office, for example, we are made up of many faiths and creeds. Everyone is respectful of everyone else’s festivities and when we get together towards the end of December to celebrate the holiday season, we won’t be celebrating Christmas as that would leave many people out, we’ll be celebrating all holidays. We talk about our holidays, we share our traditions (and best of all, we share our traditional foods) and we have fun. Imagine that: a holiday celebration that is fun – it can happen !

However, one of the other minefields for employers this time of year is too much fun, particularly when alcohol is involved. Holiday parties without spouses and with alcohol are a good way to test your sexual harassment policy and really, who want to do that? Lunch time events tend to have less drinking and as such, less potential liability. As Martha Stewart would say “it’s a good thing”.

All of the above is not to take the ho ho ho out of the holidays. It’s just to remind employers that if you don’t want the gift of spending quality time with your lawyers for most of next year, you’re going to want to think about what was written here.

Happy Festivus !

Inga B. Andriessen JD

In July of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada made a ruling in a case called R. v. Jordan. This case has impacted our Civil Justice system in the Province of Ontario, in addition to the Criminal Justice system to which it was targeted.

In the Jordan decision, the Court held that Superior Court cases will now have up to 30 months to be completed, from the time the charge is laid to the conclusion of a trial. Provincial court trials should be completed within 18 months of charges being laid, but can be extended to 30 months if there is a preliminary inquiry.

The impact of the above on the Civil Justice system is that priority is now being given to criminal matters in order to ensure cases are not dismissed. This problem is amplified as many accused, who may have previously plead guilty, are now holding out longer with the hope their charge will be dismissed for delay. This has increased the number of cases making their way through the system.

The impact of Jordan, on a system that already doesn’t have enough Judges because the Federal Government is studying how Judges are appointed (maybe they could just use the old system for now until they figure out a new one?) is massive.

Civil cases are being bumped so that criminal matters can be heard. This means increased legal fees for civil cases as lawyers are having to prepare more than once to argue the same case. That is not fair to civil litigants who deserve the same access to justice as those in the criminal system.

We need more Judges and we need them now.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

Dear future client:

We look forward to helping you collect the money you’re owed from that customer you are about to do business with.

We understand that the customer doesn’t want to put your deal in writing, preferring to work on a handshake. We also understand that you have not done any credit checks on this customer, but they promise to pay you within your terms.

We recommend you document your deal: if you’re selling an item, prepare an invoice and make sure it says if you’re not paid within a certain amount of time, you will charge interest at an annual rate, not monthly.

If the item you’re selling is fairly pricey and you’re not being paid immediately, we recommend you use a credit application for the customer – this will help us help you if we need to sue. Get permission to do an Equifax search. Make sure you have a copy of the Articles of Incorporation or Driver’s Licence if its’ a sole proprietorship. This information will make it easier for our firm to find and serve your customer with the law suit: this will save you money.

When the customer wants to pay with a post-dated cheque, know that if it goes NSF, that makes it harder for the customer to successfully defend your lawsuit to collect your money. It’s not as good as being paid on time, but if you’re going to take these risks, it’s better than nothing.

We know you’ll probably ignore the above advice, until you’ve needed our help at least once. We know that at that point, you’ll appreciate we gave you the above advice to help save you money and time and you’ll see value in the advice.

Until then, best of luck and we look forward to working with you in the future.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

Most Ontario High Schools are now sending out codes for students to use to apply to University. This is an exciting time and one full of a lot of decisions for students. Many of those students want to be lawyers. Many are being lied to by the Universities they’re applying to.

So, High School Students, here is the straight goods:

1. Law School is really expensive and many lawyers don’t earn a first year salary of more than $ 50,000.00.

2. If you don’t do well on the LSAT, you can go to a UK or Australian Law School that doesn’t require that: however, future Canadian Employers will presume you went there because you couldn’t get into a Canadian Law School and that is a disadvantage for being hired.

3. You cannot just start working when you come back to Canada after getting a foreign law degree. You need to spend more money getting your National Committee on Accreditation approval – that’s at least another year and more money – before you can Article or go to the Law Practice Program.

Be wary of Canadian Universities offering you a “dual Canadian/UK LLB” this is not the “great deal” they’re making it out to be.

I work with many lawyers who were sold the “UK” law degree path without ever knowing the above information and they all wished they had known before they signed up. So, now you know.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

This is quite a week. November 11 is Remembrance Day in Canada. We stop to remember the men and women who fought in wars in order to ensure we have our freedom. Freedom is not free and many paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Of course, today, November 8 is the US Presidential election. This is democracy in action and the very thing soldiers fought and continue to fight, to preserve.

Tying together the two thoughts above is part of why so many people are very troubled by Donald Trump refusing to say he will accept the election results, even if he doesn’t win. This is not how it works in a democracy. This is not what the troops fought and continue to fight for.

The US election has been hard fought with a lot of ugliness. Even in Canada people have been debating the candidates with an intensity and nastiness that has been unprecedented. However, part of being a democracy means that you come together after a nasty fight and celebrate the fact that you have the right to vote and be grateful for the sacrifices that have been made so you can continue to do so.

Democracy is great. It is does not need to be made great again, it simply needs to be respected.

Lest we forget.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

I’ve been reading and hearing a lot lately about the call for financial literacy classes in high school. This involves teaching the basics of budgeting, what credit cards are, etc. I think this is a great idea.

However, I also think it would be a great idea if we taught legal literacy as well. Right now, Law classes in High School are often only offered at the University level stream. This class involves general concepts of law and an introduction to criminal law. It’s meant for students who are possibly interested in a future career in law and it is great. However, not everyone is going on to a career in law.

Everyone will, however, die. This means everyone will need a Will. That should be covered in High School.

50% of marriages fail. Basic family law rights and obligations should be covered in High School.

Most students will rent an apartment or house during their lifetime. Basic residential Landlord and Tenant rights and obligations should be covered in High School.

Currently, through my work chairing the Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN) Halton Committee, we are able to work with Law Teachers to bring that information to the school on an ad hoc basis. This means some Halton High School students will emerge legally literate, however, many will not.

Let’s add legal literacy to the conversation about financial literacy in highschool.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

The Law Society of Upper Canada has been working very hard to improve the civility between lawyers. This is something most of us practicing law always strive towards, yet occasionally, fail to achieve.

One of the interesting things of living in the age of the Donald Trump campaign for President is how running that type of campaign is “mainstreaming” the inappropriate behaviour he frequently displays. For eg, in Toronto, one of the local Councillors proudly displayed a photo flipping the bird on his home page: this has become “o.k.” int ath Councillor’s mind.

Similarly, I recently found myself in the lawyers lounge at Court House. I was the only female lawyer and the male lawyers thought it was great to toss around Donald’s “grab them by the p” comment. Wow. That was a new Courthouse low for me.

As lawyers in Ontario, we need to strive towards civility and avoid name calling and inappropriate outbursts. Of course, every now and then a Bad Hombre may bring out the Nasty Woman in a lawyer and when that happens, the only proper result is clearly to deny it ever happened, or claim that the Court decision was rigged, if it happened in the Court Room.

Or maybe, just maybe, we can all take a look at the behaviour of The Donald and decide we are better than that. We are more civil than that and we can argue opposite sides of an issue without taking it personally and without personal attacks.

Now, if you’re a Trump fan, then I know your reaction to this blog is “wrong”. I’m o.k. with that: you do you and I’ll be civil.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

Next week, the Class of 1991 is holding its’ 25th Reunion. Our Class has organized it on its’ own because our Law School dropped the ball. It seems it was unable to reach people in our Class to tell them about the reunion. Strangely, the people who didn’t learn about the reunion, continue to receive emails asking for donations. I’m guess those people are probably not responding to those emails. I digress.

Twenty-five years sounds like a long time and to be fair, it is, though looking back on it, it flew by in the blink of an eye (oh boy do I sound old).

During my career to date, I’ve seen some big changes in the law and how we practice law in Ontario. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen many things stay the same and that is troubling. We still don’t have computerized filing of Court proceedings in Ontario. We still don’t have enough Judges. We still have Court Houses that are too small for the population they serve.

On the positive, we have wide ranging, meaningful legal research data bases available to us online. We have legal education that is available province wide through Webcasts. We have the Law Practice Program (LPP) as an alternative to Articling (for now). We have a push to embrace technology and use it to strengthen our legal skills.

From a personal point of view, I’m proud to have contributed to the case law applying the Oppression Remedy to Creditors. I’m proud of having worked to create a High School Mentor Lawyer program in Halton and I’m proud of working with the LPP Candidates to Mentor new, young lawyers to achieve their potential.

Given how quickly these twenty-five years flew by, I am excited (though not in a rush) to see how incredible the next twenty-five will be!

Inga B. Andriessen JD

If you’re a fan of The Voice (or forced to watch it because your spouse is a fan) then you’re familiar with The Blind Auditions that start this singing competition. If not, it’s not complicated: four judges have their backs to a singer who walks on stage and the judges cannot see them. The judges only base their decision as to whether the singer should continue in the competition on the sound of their voice: not their name, appearance or performance, just their ability.

Lately I’ve been hearing from many lawyers who are facing challenges obtaining job interviews, despite having incredible resumes, marks and being educated at some of the top law schools in Canada and around the world. These lawyers who are having challenges are, like me, people whose names are not “traditional Canadian names”. When people see the name Inga Andriessen, they often presume (wrongly) that I was not born in Canada. I don’t think they presume that my English will be accented, but they might think I’ll sound like an Ikea Commercial (again wrong, I’m of Dutch descent, not Swedish and the only accent I have is Canadian,eh) or they might think that I’m tall and blonde … well, that’s a bad example as I am both.

Regardless, assumptions are made based on names and despite all the talk about treating everyone equally, that’s not what is actually going on in the world. People are still being discriminated against based on their presumed lack of English skills, lack of training or, in the worst case scenario, because they are the wrong colour.

I’ve never understood employers making decisions based on race, presumed country of origin or any other factor other than ability. You lose out on great talent that way: it just doesn’t make sense.

So, my clever solution is this: let’s conduct job interviews like Blind Auditions. If the candidate has the right degree and level of achievement, then do the interview without knowing the person’s name, without actually seeing them, and make your decision based on ability, not stereotypes. Personally, I’d like to get a special “The Voice” chair with a red button I can press to spin around once I’ve decided to hire the candidate: that would be awesome !

I’m not actually suggesting this happen, but I’m pointing out, if you’re pre-judging candidates based on their name and don’t even bother to read how accomplished they are on their resume, you’re likely missing out on some great talent.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

Over three years ago, the Law Society of Upper Canada agreed to a three year trial of an alternative to Articling for lawyers seeking to be Called to the Bar in Ontario. This program is called the Law Practice Program, or shortened to LPP.

The Sub-Committee of the Law Society has recommended that the LPP not be continued. I disagree.

When one Articles, one works under an Articling Principal (one responsible lawyer) for 10 months. That one person then signs off on whether the lawyer is ready to be Called to the Bar in Ontario.

In the LPP, the lawyers are mentored by two different lawyers for the first four months of the program. The lawyers also have their work evaluated by over 15 other assessors who independently decide if those lawyers are ready to be Called to the Bar in Ontario. After that first four months, the lawyers then have a work placement where the supervising lawyer again has an opportunity to decide if the lawyer is ready to be Called to the Bar in Ontario.

As a Mentor in the LPP, I have had three years of first hand experience in the program and believe that it produces a lawyer who is better prepared to be Called to the Bar than most Articling positions. As a result, I was initially confused as to why the Sub-Committee recommended against the continuation of this licensing option .

After thinking about it, I concluded, the reason must be because the Law Society wishes to limit the number of lawyers being Called to the Bar in Ontario.

When I went to Law School 25 years ago, very few Canadian students chose to study abroad and then come back to Canada to be licensed. Part of that was due to the fact that the requirements to have your foreign degree accepted in Ontario were much higher back then. This lead to a natural “cap” on the number of lawyers seeking admission to the Bar each year as it was based, in part, on the number of Canadian Law School graduates each year.

Today, however, it is not uncommon for many Canadian students to study law in schools in the UK and Australia, then return to Canada seeking to become licensed in this country. This has resulted in a huge influx of lawyers seeking to become licensed in Ontario. At the same time as the huge increase in lawyers seeking to become licensed, there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of Articling positions available.

If the intention of the Law Society is to limit the number of lawyers Called to the Ontario Bar, that can still be accomplished by having the LPP being the only licensing stream and capping the number of lawyers who are accepted into the LPP each year.

The LPP produces a more prepared lawyer and one who is evaluated by many assessors, not just the opinion of one lawyer.

I vote that the LPP stay.

Inga B. Andriessen JD