Ultra Vires

Thursday, Nov 27, 2008 7:36 pm
William Barnes

There has recently been some controversy regarding the Faculty of Law student paper Ultra Vires. The University of Toronto Law Union has taken issue with Ultra Vires’ practice of granting honorariums to volunteers at the end of the year. Having read the paper’s account, received a mass-email from the Law Union, had an interesting discussion with some classmates, and, finally, having not written anything on here for months, I decided to put my thoughts into writing.

The Law Union

Who are they? The email identifies three “co-chairs” of the group. The co-chairs are third-year students at the law school. They use a Gmail address to send their mail. They are not listed on either the Faculty of Law or the Student Law Society websites. In fact, other than their mention in Ultra Vires two weeks ago, I cannot find any evidence that they actually exist.

My suspicion is that they formed for the specific purpose of complaining about this. My further suspicion is that they are simply a few students who learned how to write a demand letter at their summer jobs and are itching to try out their new weapons. My opinion is that they may be the reason people don’t like lawyers. I could be wrong about these three things. I am open to correction (luckily nobody reads this blog, so I will remain correct).

The Issue

At this point, I realized I should have been writing this entry in the style of a case brief. Just for fun.

So the issue is that rather than giving leftover money to the students (as Osgoode’s student paper does) or simply investing the money in next year’s paper, the Ultra Vires [UV] board has been giving the extra money as honorariums. These honorariums range (according to the newspaper) from $500–$1500. The Law Union [UTLU] objects to this practice. I have no such objection.

The Arguments

That’s our money!

No, it isn’t. UV is funded by advertising. It gets no funding from the law school or our student union.

But they get office-space!

True. If the Faculty of Law is like the rest of UofT, however, UV pays (a token amount) to rent that office. In that case, we would lose no money. In the case that the office is truly free to UV, I believe that we get our money’s worth out of the paper.

They’re volunteers. Volunteers shouldn’t expect to get paid.

Two problems here: (1) they don’t expect anything, and (2) they are not being paid. The money they get at the end is contingent on the paper bringing in more money than it spends. If they lose an advertiser or have unexpected costs, they get less or don’t get anything. Also, the money is not payment (i.e. not a salary), it is an honorarium. Non-profits often give honorariums to people who volunteer for them. Ever go to a presentation and see someone jump up at the end and give the speaker a mug or flowers or other gift of some sort? That’s an honorarium. When I chaired the student life committee (such as it was) for SAC-UTM, I received a certificate and a cheque for $400 at the end of the year as a thank you for all the work I put in. It is common practice for non-profit groups to reward volunteers. Further, even if it were a salary, non-profits are fully entitled to pay salaries. If you really have an issue, you should take on UTSU, who not only pay salaries and honorariums, but receive money directly by student levy.

But volunteers should do it solely out of the goodness of their hearts!

Maybe so. But there is no reason to think that the editors at UV do it for any other reason. The payout isn’t guaranteed. And if they are doing it for the money, then they are obviously idiots. If they took the time they spent on the paper and got a job at McDonald’s they would earn much more.

But volunteers at association X don’t get honorariums!

Well, then take it up with X. Obviously, if they receive funding from SLS or the Faculty, they won’t be able to pocket the money. That funding comes out of a pool set aside for club expenses. If the club is totally self-sufficient, then, barring any other regulations, it’s their prerogative to give or not. If the honorarium makes a difference to you, then volunteer for UV; I hear they’re looking.

This entry is too long!

Nobody reads my blog, so you don’t exist. Clearly, you have more pressing matters to address.

They get to use the Faculty of Law name and distribute in the school, we control them!

There might be something to that. Certainly, if the Faculty decided that they didn’t like the practice they could make access to the school and it’s name contingent on doing something else with the money. Talk to the Dean. If the Faculty has no problem, then UV has no problem.

Conclusion

I’m cutting the entry artificially short perhaps. I’m stopping not because I’m out of arguments and counter-arguments, but because I’m out of time.

UV is self-sufficient. They can do whatever they want to do with their money (as long as it’s legal). In the last issue, the editor compiled statistics from surveys submitted by 2L students after their On-Campus Interviews. These statistics are well-worth whatever honorarium she gets. The students at the Faculty of Law get more value out of the paper than they theoretically spend on it.

The students at UTLU ought to reflect a little bit more and consider doing something of value themselves before sending bullying letters filled with unsubstantiated claims to try and take things away from other people. It’s obvious that people aren’t going to like my generation of lawyers any more than the last.