How legal practice can respond to technological opportunities and economic realities.

In August, 2015 Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverley McLachlin, opened the annual gathering of the Canadian Bar Association by calling on the profession to become more accessible and efficient without compromising professional standards.

“In the age of the Internet, people are questioning why they, the consumers of legal product, should be forced to go to expensive lawyers working in expensive office buildings located in expensive urban centres.”

It was not the first time Justice McLachlin spoke provocatively about the need for change in the profession. In 2011, she called for lawyers to make legal services accessible to all, not just the wealthy.

This past year she also called on the profession to embrace new technology, artificial intelligence in particular. (Lawyers’ intelligence is  already pretty artificial, as clients frustrated by legalese certainly know:)

At Social Enterprise Advocates, we are facing these challenges in some practical and unexpected ways.

The Virtual Office

The law firm of the future may be in your pocket, or on your wrist.

The law firm of the future may be in your pocket, or on your wrist.

We joined the Centre for Social Innovation community in Toronto in the fall of 2014 in part to address accessibilty. By paring infrastructure to a minimum, thanks to shared amenities, we kept fees below the national average – with further discounts for CSI community members and friends – while serving a community of people whose work we support and encourage at every level.

Our presence is now largely “virtual.” We do not maintain a regular office but rely instead on a combination of shared “hot” desks, borrowed offices and meeting rooms that can be booked. We use a cellphone rather than landline. We share office supplies, and faxng and copying costs. Volunteers (DECAs) provide reception services and sort mail. Two listservs are essential tools in engaging the community both socially and professionally.

In 2015, we focussed on serving the CSI communities in the areas of start-ups, estates and wills, and non-profits. This arrangement worked very well; by mid-year however, our outlook expanded beyond the bounds of the social innovator context.

Working remotely

We had been developing ties outside of Toronto that held promise, and over the summer of 2015, we took our law practice on the road, logging some 14,000 kms in travel to and from Toronto and Northwestern Ontario. By September, an opportunity came up to associate with a small law fim, Beamish & Associates, located in Sioux Lookout. The firm serves a very wide catchment area that includes over twenty First Nations communities, as well as the towns of Kenora, Dryden, Red Lake, Ear Falls and Pickle Lake. This is in the district of Kenora, which is the largest, yet least populated electoral district in Canada.

This development is changing the nature of our practice is some important ways.  In Northwestern Ontaro, we now do family law and civil litigation in response to the need for this type of service. In Toronto, we continue to focus on “startup law” and wills & estates.

In Northwestern Ontario we are also working more with First Nations people, who make up about 35% of the population. In Toronto, an opportunity arose to participate in a sensitivity-training workshop offered by Bear Standing Tall, with whom I share office space at the Regent Park CSI. That helped me gain confidence in working with First Nations people, while also tieing my northern experience back to my urban law practice.

A year ago, I would not have imagined that it might be possible to  stretch a law practice to reach over 1500 kms.

Location-independent services

I am hoping that the CSI community will embrace this new reality and continue to use our services.

Our Toronto clients support a more equitable distribution of services insofar as we are working for more diverse and dispersed communities. We also provide services across a broader economic spectrum than many law firms, from aspiring entrepreneurs in Sault Ste. Marie to people on fixed incomes living in downtown Toronto. This is not merely “pro bono” work, it is an integral part of what we do, providing quality services based on need not means.

Advocacy

The noun “avocat” is, en français, the word for lawyer. In English the meaning of “advocate” has been broadened to something more general and active like “standing up for.” In all our work, we “stand up for” our clients in many ways, but we also believe in “standing for” certain things – advocating values and ways of doing things.

Our approach to legal practice values accessibility and client relations. We are open and transparent about what the law can and cannot do for you. We will discuss how the law works and why, so that you are as well informed as possible. Our northern experience is helping us learn new ways to talk about and explain the law.

Lawyers today have an awesome array of tools that promote better quality work, greater efficientcy and effectiveness. Text messaging, email, Skype, all make it possible to work “without borders” but also with a degree of responsiveness that is unprecedented. In the north, tools like video conferencing have become essential in the delivery of medicical and legal services. Necessity is promoting innovation. Which perhaps, leaves us with this maxim, a thought for the New Year:

Innovation does not always lead from the centre, but from where the need is greatest, which may well be on the periphery or margin.

 

 

 
Finalizing the incorporation of a new social enterprise at the Hwy 17 turnoff to St. Joseph's Island, near Bruce Mines, Ontario.

Finalizing the incorporation of a new social enterprise at the Hwy 17 turnoff to St. Joseph’s Island, near Bruce Mines, Ontario.

I spent twenty-six days on the road this summer, travelling between Toronto and Winnipeg, most of it in northwestern Ontario between Sault Ste. Marie and Kenora.

Yours truly, with Katie Elliot. Project Coordinator at the Nordik Institute in Sault Ste. Marie ON

Yours truly, with Katie Elliot. Project Coordinator at the Nordik Institute in Sault Ste. Marie ON

I met many new people and learned new things while also spending a lot of time actually outside in the landscape. One wonders why more people don’t do this. (We have the tools, yet cling to fixed places, routines and ways of doing things.)

I am especially grateful to a few people who encouraged and supported this time of exploration. Marjorie Brans at the School for Social Entrepreneurs connected me to Katie Elliot at the Nordik Institute in Sault Ste. Marie, which gave me the opportunity to give a workshop on the structure of non-profits and social enterprises. This prompted me to start visualizing the different ways enterprises can be structured and compare them; something that I hope to develop into a more polished presentation. Katie in turn connected me with Roslyn Lockyer of the PARO Centre, an organization that supports women entrepreneurs in Thunder Bay and across northern Ontario.

Also persistent chipmunks running off with morning toast when you're not looking.

Also morning toast from sneaky campground chipmunks.

An important  outcome of all this traelling was connecting with Cathy Beamish, the force behind Beamish & Associates, a small law firm located in Sioux Lookout, Ontario. I started working part of every month in August, filling some gaps in their legal service offering while continuing to develop my connections in northern Ontario.

Working on the road is challenging. Meeting people face to face can be challenging, depending on schedules, money, and the unpredictable factors of weather, road construction, even wildlife. But folks in the north understand these things and roll with whatever comes up. By being flexible and understanding, the work gets done. More importantly, I believe there is a qualitative difference in the relationships that are formed and the work product itself. Hard to measure, but doing work in the north, on the road, or remotely, is never “just business.”

 

 

Speaking Engagements

We are heading west in July, with stops in Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout and Kenora before Winnipeg, our final destination. Enroute we’ll be meeting with people to talk about social enterprise, including this:

poster for Sault Ste. Marie talk on social enterprise and law.

If you are in the vicinity of Sault Ste. Marie on July 7th, please join us. Click on image for larger view.

Thanks to Katie Elliott, Project Coordinator of the NORDIK Institute and Sessional Instructor in the Algoma University CESD Program, for setting up this workshop. And to Marjorie Brans at the School for Social Enterprepreneurs – Ontario for introducing us.

 

trilliumThe Ontario Trillium Foundation is rejigging its programs. Below is a summary of how we see things shaping up and our (highly subjective) thoughts  about what they are looking for.

The focus for all public funders today is economic development, i.e. job creation and stimulus, especially directed towards youth, seniors and constituencies facing acute political, social, physical or economic challenges.

All funders also want to see impacts beyond the money spent by the grant, whether in the form of projects becoming self-sustaining or by producing measurable economic benefits that advance self-reliance in the targeted constituency.

If you don’t know anything about impact measurement, it’s time to learn what GIIRS, GRI, IRIS and SROI stand for.

To approach Trillium for funding, here are the basic steps:

  1. find the right funding category – there are three now, SEED, GROW and CAPITAL;
  2. make sure your project is targeting at least one of Trillium’s desired “priority outcomes;”
  3. find the program area that fits what you do – there are six: Active People, Connected People, Green People, Inspired People, Promising Young People and Prosperous People – all interesting terminology  for what, back in the day, they would have simply called Sports, Seniors, Environment, Arts, Youth, and Employment
  4. ensure your project is doing the kind of work Trillium will support (they are being very specific) and that it will produce measurable impact; you will want to be counting, counting, counting not just the number of people engaged and dollars spent/earned,  but the number of job placements, clubs and leadership positions created, square feet of building, facilities, etc.

Funding levels can be expected to be somewhat lower than before considering both Kathleen Wynne’s continued cuts to the Trillium budget (amounting to $20m over the past 4 years; 2012-13 budget was approximately $125m), and the fact that demand is always rising.

There are three grant streams: Seed, Grow and Capital.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 5.02.43 PMSEED grants are for early-stage development projects:

Activities funded include:

  • Conducting new research or feasibility studies
  • Testing new approaches
  • Hosting discussions about emerging issues or new opportunities
  • Developing a new idea
  • Launching a new event
  • Convening people together

AMOUNT: From $5,000 to $75,000
TERM: Up to 1 year

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 5.27.17 PMGROW grants are for more substantial projects:

Activities funded include:

  • Replicating, adapting or scaling a proven model
  • Piloting or demonstrating a tested model

AMOUNT: From $50,000 to $250,000 per year
TERM: 2 to 3 years

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 5.02.26 PMCAPITAL grants are for buildings: improving access, or energy efficiency, renovating, repairing or building new.

Activities funded include:

  • Buying and installing equipment
  • Doing renovations, installations and repairs
  • Building structures or spaces
  • Making better use of technological resources

AMOUNT: From $5,000 to $150,000
TERM: Up to 1 year

TYPES OF PROJECTS

Trillium funding is targeted. They know the types of projects they want to support and the impacts those projects should produce.

Let’s look at just three of the six funding streams.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 5.31.12 PMThe Trillium category ACTIVE PEOPLE is for sport/play projects. In terms of impact, they are looking for:
– high quality and inclusive programs
– engaging more people
More specifically, they are seeking projects that will:
– produce qualified or certified trainers and coaches
– be deeply inclusive: the key words here are “fairness” and “age and ability appropriate”
– create infrastructure for unstructured and structured play/sports: an interesting word here is “unstructured” – they are looking for things that increase physical activity but not necessarily conventional sports.

If you have a project that is going to:

  1. produce new coaches/trainers
  2. in a new kind of structured or unstructured sports/play activity
  3. that is reaching into a community with sports/play deficits

then this is the category for you.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 5.31.34 PMThe Trillium category INSPIRED PEOPLE is for arts projects. In terms of impact, they are looking for:
– new and improved facilities
– transferring knowledge from older to younger generations
– arts-based learning and compelling cultural experiences, which both translate into not simply increased visitors or audience but a level of active participation.

So, for example, if you have a project that is going to:

  1. add to or rejuvinate or build a new facility
  2. with programs that are committed to using art as a tool for learning not just about art, and
  3. that uses art and artifacts in an active, not passive way

then this is the category for you.

Check out the metrics Trillium envisions you producing in the Inspired People stream.

The last category we’ll look at here is one that is close to our hearts.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 5.31.23 PMThe Trillium category CONNECTED PEOPLE is for programs to overcome social isolation and alienation. In terms of impact, Trillium is looking for:
– giving people a say in developing meaningful programs;
– cultivating leadership and taking leadership roles in the community
– bringing diverse communities together to share services, work on common goals;
– creating places and programs where people gather.

So, for example, if you have a project that is going to:

  1. bring together people who are isolated
  2. to create their own programs and take on leadership roles
  3. that also crosses the race, class, ethnicity, economic and other  boundaries that keep people apart

then this is the category for you.

Read Trillium’s backgrounders on the Connected People program and expected impacts to get the full picture. Below is an example of the metrics (measurements) they are looking for in this stream.
Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 5.38.21 PM

Finally, NEW to the Trillium process is the preliminary self-assessment tool. That can be intimidating but it is only a tool. If you have a project in mind, it is always a good idea to call Trillium first and talk to one of their friendly and helpful officers. If you would like help planning a project  and preparing an application, please give us a call 647 929 0466 or email info@socialenterpriseadvocates.ca.

Art. Future. Change. Canada Council for the Arts report on the state of the visual arts in Canada, 2015The Canada Council for the Arts publication of a major report on the state of the visual arts in Canada (discussed here) inspired us to look afresh at how social enterprise concepts might play in the arts. This quote from the report was the spark: “[M]uch can be learned from innovative strategies in start-up culture, social enterprise and experimental development; as well as emergent non-profit business models that are being explored across other sectors.”

What are the startup and social enterprise strategies the report is referring to? And what is to be learned from them?

The mantra of social enterprise is “people, planet and profit.” And for both startups and social enterprises, success has to be measurable, producing both social and financial returns for investors and the enterprise.

Globe_reconstructionSocial enterprise is defined in this this Reuter’s article as “a business that solves a social purpose.” The article is about the UK’s Globe theatre raising £5m (CAD $7.5m) through a “social impact bond” (SIB) issue.

The UK government has 31 SIBs as of this year, more than there are in the rest of the world combined. A government issued SIB is typically calculated to produce a return on investment in the form of savings on how government is currently doing things. For example, a bond issued to support home care over hospital care, will produce savings in overall health care costs. As performance goals are met, bond holders receive financial returns proportional but not eating up all the savings. Everybody wins, maybe not as much as in the private investment world but enough to make a difference.

For Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, it is not yet clear whether the bond will be designed to produce actual financial returns or is more like philanthropy by a sexier name. But in terms of “social return on investment” or “social impact” the Globe’s impact looks impressive: in the first six months of a 24-month world tour launched in April 2014, 89 performances of Hamlet were staged in 54 countries to approximately 54,000 people.

Taking social enterprise literally

A more literal approach to using startup and social enterprise strategies would be to try them out. There are a host of enterprising things museums do already. To be strategic, pushing toward the triple bottom lines of people, planet and profit, would take just a little tweeking:

Hospitality Industry Training

Dress these folks in black and turn those smiles upside down and you'd have something like a group of shot of museum professionals

Take off the hats and turn those smiles upside down and these folks wouldn’t look too different than a group of museum professionals.

Typically, services in public institutions like museums and art galleries are “extra.” The primary tasks are to collect and preserve and present artifacts or art. Guests are welcome but secondary to the primary mission. Financing similarly is not tied to the mission. There’s a correlation of course between donors, sponsors and visitor support and the quality of program but it is indirect. No-one buys a curator’s decision to show a particular artist, least of all the public.

All that is fine, but when it comes to visitor services, public galleries have learned that numbers matter and holding numbers requires more than simply delivering great exhibitions in great, well-kept spaces. Increasingly, they are required to pay attention to the “visitor experience.”

Receptionists and docents know just how often they are asked for directions to restaurants or other attractions. Yet, few people working in the arts are properly trained in how to anticipate and respond to visitors. This is the territory of “customer relations,” and “hospitality,” familiar in the travel and accommodation industries. This is not to say that today’s museum goer is not welcomed and helped. They are. And museums are increasingly attentive to, and developing expertise in this area.

At the same time, there is also a need for trained people in the tourism and hospitality fields. As Richard Florida pointed out over a decade ago, the whole economy has shifted toward services. As manufacturing moves offshore and leisure becomes more important for a larger, aging and relatively financially secure demographic, services training is needed.

Museums could strengthen and broaden their public role by focusing on, and enhancing, visitor services. To be able to invest in improved services, an entrepreneurial approach could be taken. Museums could create visitor centres that are a training grounds for tourism and hospitality workers. They would simultaneously get the benefit of the people learning on the job while also producing people with experience and enthusiasm who are 100% more  likely to search out or even create new opportunities to put their greeting/hosting/serving skills to use.

Official Guide Training Program

The institutional credibility and intellectual pedigree of museums make them a natural seedbed for highly specialized training.

The institutional credibility and intellectual pedigree of museums make them fertile ground in which to grow highly specialized training programs.

In the UK, Blue Badge guides are among the most respected people working in the hospitality and tourism industry. The training is rigorous: they study for up to two years at university level, taking a comprehensive series of written and practical exams which qualify them to become Blue Badge Tourist Guides.

Art museums already train and use docents, and increasingly are looking at digital audio/media supports for the visitor experience. For sure, digital media are intriguing, for now, but nothing compares to the caring and knowledgeable personal guide. A program that trains people, older and younger, to develop their knowledge and presentation skills to encyclopedic levels would prove its value in two concrete ways: enhancing workforce skill levels but also by adding credibility and respect to the institutions that would employ those people. In the highly competitive tourism marketplace, distinctiveness and quality are prized and hard to achieve.

Art Bank

Browsing the Art Bank collection during the 40th Anniversary open house or shopping for something to take home?

Browsing the Art Bank collection during the 40th Anniversary open house or shopping for something to rent and take home?

Started in 1972, the Canada Council Art Bank was as innovative a social enterprise concept as you are ever likely to find. Artists would “bank” their work there, having been paid well for it, retaining a right to “withdraw” it at any time for the same price. The presumption was that years later, the value of the work having gone up substantially, the artist would be able to buy the work back at cost and sell it, capitalizing on the increased market value.

For the Art Bank, the money wasn’t in the escalating price of the work but in renting it out while they held it. Government and corporate offices throughout Ottawa showcased the best work being done in Canada. It was stunning and a model that worked fabulously well for many years, producing surpluses year after year. Eventually, however, the model failed. The vaults kept growing, storage and maintenance costs ever increasing, but the rental market was saturated and redemption was rare. Most Canadian art isn’t worth more than it was the day it left the studio.

Today the Art Bank is still struggling to find its way. But it has created a fine history of respectable failures to learn from. One obvious lesson is that an enterprise that hopes to succeed in the marketplace needs to have the agility to move with it. Failing to change its art acquisition policies when the rental market was saturated (and in fact started to collapse as government cost cutting eliminated rental budgets) was fatal.

The most important lesson of the Art Bank lies in the relationship between collection and marketplace. Many art galleries have rental services but the work they rent is generally not very valuable and not very good. One assumes the reasons, risk of damage, theft, insurance costs. Yet the Art Bank was able to place artwork valued in the 10s of thousands in public and private buildings, often in high traffic areas. Why shouldn’t artworks in museum collections be rented out directly to conscientious patrons, businesses, organizations and local government?

Or how about this even more radical idea? Imagine a dystopian Fahrenheit 451-ish future in which collections are distributed among the people, housed and cared for piece by piece; it would be the “museum” as it started, with the impulse to collect, conserve, study, only distributed and organized as we are able to do now in the 21st C.

Sunday Painters

Winston Churchill was a Sunday painter. The important thing isn't whether he was any good, but that he thought painting was worth his time. You can't tell me that isn't a lesson museums are trying to teach.

Winston Churchill was a Sunday painter. It isn’t important  whether or not he was any good, but that he thought painting was worth his time. That’s a lesson all museums are trying to teach.

The art world has spent the past 30+ years learning not to judge everything from the white European male perspective. Just as barriers to women, black, hispanic, gay and other artists of all kinds fall, perhaps the final frontier of inclusiveness will be opening the doors of privilege to the genre and amateur artist.

It is difficult for art museums to show local amateur artists, except maybe once a year, in hallways. Wildlife artists like Robert Bateman continue to be ignored despite their global popularity. What’s going on? It’s not like the “high arts” can’t handle a challenge. In fact, critical challenge is what the best of the arts are supposed to be good at. As Andrew Hunter, now curator of Canadian art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, showed in his early curation-as-art practice, art is liminal, an effect produced at the interstices of place, object, object and encounter, i.e. contextual.

I know it sounds improbable, but the assumptions around things like Sunday (and other genres of) painters warrant testing. There is something so obviously “social” in these practices. And engaging audiences more as active producers than passive spectators can’t be a bad thing. It’s a clumsy idea. It’s unclear where the “enterprise” part might come in. Some amateur work is produced in gallery art classes for which the artists already pay. Wildlife or naturalist artists like Bateman would draw staggering numbers of visitors of course, selling out the gift shops. I have no conclusions in this final example. I’m just throwing it out there. Perhaps you see it more clearly.

The point of this exercise, these four ideas, has been to look at things differently. Social enterprise is about finding ways to accomplish important social purposes in ways no one has thought of before. It’s willing to risk failure for the chance to do something unprecedented and remarkable.

In startup land, there’s a lot of buzz around concepts like “disruption.” Many things that we assumed had to be the way they were, aren’t that way anymore, bookstores for example. This kind of change may not always be good, at least not in the way we have defined “good,” but it is always interesting, which is, as artist Don Judd once said, the whole point.

 
Libraries contribute to the quality of life in neighbourhoods and as an educational resource but also in real economic terms. Look at the numbers associated with library use. Borrowing and reading a book is an economic activity.

Libraries contribute to the quality of life in neighbourhoods and as an educational resource but also in real economic terms. Look at the numbers associated with library use. Borrowing and reading a book is an economic activity.

Impact is a word you hear often these days. For social enterprises, non-profits and charities it tends to be teamed up with “social,” as in “social impact,” referring to the good you are doing. For business it tends to be partnered with “economic,” as in how much money you make, how many people you employ, plus also how your business stimulates other businesses, contributes to consumer spending power and the overall economy (GDP). Most of us would like to think they are the same thing: that qualitative effects can be evaluated in terms of quantitative results or even dollars, but that isn’t always the case, and I don’t think it should be, if only for the sake of clarity.

We recently completed a business plan for a non-profit community organization that needed to show its funders that it has capacity for real economic growth that will help it be financially sustainable for the long-term. Our research found that, while it will never be free from needing grants, it has a strong track record of private support from donors and sponsors, which when coupled with consistent results in winning grants makes it possible to predict with confidence that it has capacity to do more, to grow these sources of revenue and diversify them. We also found considerable potential to increase self-generated revenue from existing programs and by adding new facilities and programs. Here, however, even though we were talking about very concrete, business-like things, it was difficult to project results with confidence. Two things were lacking: data about how the organization is already working from a program/services earnings perspective, and in-depth understanding of the marketplace, who and how it is serving.

These are concrete and measurable things but the reality is that most non-profits haven’t the time to stop and gather data about their programs or the inclination to study the community they serve as if it were a market, evaluating what is working to determine how to improve or what more/different might be needed. Intuition tends to guide them and quite reliably so, thanks to the caring expertise of the people who work there. But in today’s world where measurables and milestones are the order of the day, more is needed.

I think there’s some fear that using business tools (for looking at social enterprises from a market and revenue perspective) is like joining the “forces of darkness,” that principles, mission and ethics will be compromised the moment you associate dollars with them.

Information graphics are great tools for showing where the money is.

Information graphics are great tools for showing where the money is.

Before you judge, it is worth looking at the tools, some of which have been developed by the communities that use them to help put dollar values on the indirect “intangibles” that non-profits deliver. One example, is this calculator created by Americans for the Arts (AFTA).

Economic impact calculators use multipliers based on detailed study of various industries. The AFTA calculator produces suspiciously big numbers for indirect and “induced” (even less direct, like ambient) impacts of arts organizations like museums, until you consider that cultural industries actually produce bigger impacts than traditional industries like manufacturing. The multipliers used for the auto industry, for example, take into consideration indirect impacts on parts manufacturers and materials suppliers and even less direct (“induced”) impacts on industries that in turn supply them. But arts organizations engage more and more varied kinds of industries, many of which are closer to the surface of consumer society. Impacts are felt far beyond supply, in adjacent creative industries like fashion and design, and flowing right through to consumer products and the media; film, television and new media. (As discussed in this UK study.)

Another interesting tool to look at is a calculator called the Tourism and Recreation Economic Impact Model (TREIM) created by the Government of Ontario. Its multipliers are much smaller than those used by AFTA, but still produce impressive numbers for organizations for whom audiences or visitors are a primary driver. Audiences are measurable and so are their impacts, and organizations can set goals for themselves, milestones that will verify their assumptions and validate their strategy, or, if the numbers don’t materialize the way you hoped, allow you to course correct and try something else, just like businesses do.

In the end, the important thing is not whether you have 15  or 500 people you serve (clients, customers, visitors or whatever) but whether you can verify the number before you start and measure how it changes because of your program or project. If you can do that, and measure other impacts, you will not just be satisfying a funder’s seemingly arbitrary requirements;  you will find it useful, helping you to do a better job achieving the goals you set.

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H.R._1997_signingThere are several key elements of a properly drafted Will and several key moments in the process. Signing is, to put it lightly, a rigamarole. It is a challenge to plan, complex to manage and requires supervision to pull off properly. It may not be a free trade agreement or piece of government legislation but it no less of a ceremony or ritual.

Two witnesses must witness the Testator’s (the person whose Will it is) signature. They must be in the room together at the same time and for the duration of the signing. This is harder than it sounds. A witness who steps out of the room to take a quick phone call or reply to a text compromises the days and weeks of work that has gone into preparing for this moment.

And then there’s the paperwork. Typically a client is obtaining not just a Will but also two Powers of Attorney, one for Property and one for Personal Care. So that is three documents signed by the Testator, each requiring two witnesses, meaning nine signatures in all. Individual pages of each document that are not the signing page also must be initialed. Witnesses should then swear affidavits attesting that they did indeed sign and in the presence of each other. To swear an affidavit requires a Commissioner for Oaths, a Notary, or a lawyer. So that is two affidavits for each of the three main documents, adding six documents and signatures. So we are now at 15 signatures. Add to that, the signature of the Commissioner on the affidavits and that is another six signatures. All together that’s twenty-one signatures. Preparing the paperwork, the original three documents (Will and two POAs) and the six affidavits and keeping them order as they are being signed is challenging, and once they are signed they need to be copied at least twice, once for the client to give to his/her Executor and once for the file.

Eighteen documents. Twenty-one signatures. Thirty-six copies. No surprise that so few people complete those self-help wills kits.

“[I]t would appear that no matter how explicit and clear are the instructions of the unsupervised execution of the Will by a client without legal assistance, the formalities attendant upon the legal and proper execution of a Will as provided by the statute are sufficiently complex that a client not legally trained should not be trusted to undertake this ceremony alone. I use the word ‘ceremony’ advisedly as the process of execution of Will involves at least three participants, with a prescribed ritual of which all solicitors are familiar.” – Rodney Hull, Q.C., Law Society of Upper Canada continuing legal education program materials, 2014

 

Wills Survey

“Why can’t I just write down what I want?”

– Survey respondent (In fact you can, but that’s a story for another day.)

72% of respondents don’t have a will and 86% of those have thought about getting one.

Cost doesn’t appear to be the main obstacle. Only 6% said it was. 35% said it just wasn’t a priority and, of the majority of those who provided explanations (60%) many faulted themselves (procrastination) but also cited uncertainty about what is involved, how you do it, cost, difficult coordinating with partners, not having much in the way of possessions, etc.

About half think the most important thing about a will is giving things to certain people (when really it is at least as important that you appoint someone to look after your things when you won’t be to do it yourself).

Of those who already have a will, a little over 50% got it within the last five years (Congratulations!)

Most had a lawyer do it, for prices ranging from zero (worked for a lawyer) to about $400 (though many did not reveal what they paid).

And finally, many of you have experienced major life changes since you had your will done, including changing partners (12.5%), facing major health challenges (25%), acquiring a house (25%), and, not surprisingly for a community of social innovators, over 80% have started a social enterprise, non-profit or organization or  have joined one.

So, that’s it. Thank you again.

For those who left an email address so we can send you more info, we ’ll be in touch shortly.

Here are the results of the SimplyWills Simple Survey. Thank you to everyone who participated! If you’d like to take the survey, here it is below. We’ll check it periodically to monitor on-going feedback.

SimplyWills Simple Survey

Five questions in five minutes. Scroll down to see all questions. Thank you!

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

 

Plain English drafting

220px-Norman_dictionary_1779_KelhamLaw, like most things we do in life, is deeply tied to language; who said what, when, to whom and how. Legal language is notoriously obtuse, but has gotten much, much better over the years. Still, this advice is sage for lawyers and DIYers alike:

“If you keep the language clear, concise, and as simple as possible, anyone reading the agreement will understand your intentions. Clear, concise, and simple language is important in order that:

  1. when starting the relationship with the other party, you both have the same understanding of the contract and to what you’ve each agreed;
  2. if you or your licensing counterpart leave your respective entities, anyone else can pick up the agreement and will have the same interpretation as the two of you did; and
  3. if the agreement becomes part of a legal action, any third party will interpret the agreement in the way you intended, including a judge or jury of your peers.

“If you are not sure if something is clear, it likely isn’t. Run the language by your colleagues (without providing any interpretations!) before signing as at least one test to make sure you are understood.”

– Kirsten Leute, Anatomy of a License Agreement
Kirsten Leute is a senior associate at the Office of Technology Licensing at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

 

Wheat-harvestPerhaps it is the instinct to create a cache to last through winter, or an ancient memory of the abundance of harvest time, or the family focus of events like Thanksgiving and Halloween. Whatever the motivation, many people take time in the Fall to look after longer term things. If you find yourself reflecting at this time of year about where you’ve been and where you are going, what you want out of life, your relationships and future, you are not alone.

That reflective process should naturally include thinking about your will. If you don’t have a will, you want one. There are many good reasons for having a will, the best of which is that it will help those you leave behind put your things in order. If you already have a will, you may want to think about what has changed in your life since you made it.

To give you an idea of what is involved in making a will, here are some basics:

1. The key element of every will is who is named as your Executor, that is, who will be responsible for wrapping up your affairs. And if you have children under 18, who will be named their Guardian.

2. You need to have a general idea of what you want to do with your things. (All to my spouse/partner, to the kids equally, X dollars to cousin Charlie/Médecins sans frontières or whatever, etc.)

3. Many people get stuck thinking you have to list all your assets. You don’t. It is a good idea to have such a list but most wills deal with your assets in a global way.

4. Think about any special things have and what you want done with them, things like family heirlooms (precious or not) or things of sentimental value.

5. Also give some thought to any special burial or funeral arrangements you may want.

Once you have a good idea about the above, a draft of your will can be prepared, which forms the basis for a more detailed discussion. Often things come up in conversation, wrinkles (big or small) that require special consideration and advice. These are the things that make your will uniquely yours.

The process of making the will usually involves:

1. An initial meeting to receive the above information and discuss the general shape of the will. (Yes, we make house calls for initial meetings.)

2. Preparing a draft of the will and reviewing it with you for corrections and changes. Usually this can be done by email and may involve several exchanges.

3. Once the will is finalized, meeting again at our office for signing before witnesses. This is a key moment and must be supervised to avoid errors.

Our research shows that the average cost for a “simple” will in Ontario is around $350. So that is where we set our base fee. If things are more complicated and more advice is needed, or preparation is taking an inordinate amount of time (it happens), we watch our hours and will discuss fees with you.

Finally, we recommend that you add two things to your will:

A Power of Attorney for Property is useful in case you are incapacitated. Without one, the Province may take control of your property, creating a painful and protracted experience for your family and friends. A PoA for Property can also be useful in emergencies, e.g., if you are out of the country and some property matter needs to be dealt with.

A Power of Attorney for Personal Care does the same thing but for matters of your health and living situaton in the event you are incapacitated. We recommend an additional document to accompany the PoA for Personal Care, an Advance Care Directive (sometimes called a “living will”). These two documents empower someone to make decisions for you about health care, to ensure you are cared for in the way and to the extent you wish.

Of course, you can also do your own will. Search “self-counsel wills Ontario” or “wills forms Ontario”. (The Ontario part is important because laws vary from Province to Province.) But in our experience, many people need answers to questions and a helping hand to complete a proper, legal will.

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And by all means, do your homework. The better informed you are, the more rewarding the experience will be and the better your will and PoAs will come out.

Some excellent advice about things to watch out for here: http://www.torontoestatemonitor.com/estate-planning/some-estate-planning-mistakes-to-avoid/

…referring to this informative article in the Globe & Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-investor/personal-finance/household-finances/a-legal-will-is-worth-the-time-and-money/article2153661/