Macleans on Law Societies

Macleans is law-baiting again. This time the object of their attention is the country’s law societies, or at least some of them, and the theme is the same old “who will guard the guards themselves?”. The title of the piece by Kate Lunau — “Law societies under fire” — gives the impression that all across the country benchers, or their local equivalents, are hunkered down in bunkers, whereas the body of the article gives us nothing new, nothing that hasn’t been mooted many times before respecting self-governing professions.

Essentially the article points out that in England and Wales, and in “most” Australian states, self-regulation has for some years now been supplemented by an independent complaint process. This is a sensible and perhaps necessary reform, and one that has been discussed on and off in Canada for decades. There’s nothing new here and nothing that the article reveals to be urgent or even particularly pressing.

This is not to say that law societies have always been efficient and thorough watchdogs or that reforms are unnecessary. My criticism of the article is that it is badly argued. (“With so many Canadians losing faith in the justice system—or feeling shut out of it entirely—change seems inevitable.” Huh? Law societies are now the “justice system”? Canadians have “lost faith” in it? Sez who? etc.)

But have a look and judge for yourself.


  1. Canadian Lawyer ran a similar article from the point of view of the profession itself in our Jan. 2009 issue. There has long been a sense that lawyers really don’t feel the law societies are the best way to be governed and while many have said it to me personally, it was almost impossible to get anyone to talk about it on the record. Lawyers, in my opinion, are more afraid of the law socities than they are served by them (and I know the socities govern in the public interest).

  2. But Canadian Lawyer actually has some credibility.
    I don’t think anyone takes Maclean’s seriously in the legal industry after they said, “Lawyers are Rats.”

  3. A lot of lawyers – and some legal organizations – resent the law society, at least in Ontario, for acting in the ‘public interest’ rather than entirely in the financial interest of lawyers. I wonder if they have thought through whether a direct government regulator would serve their financial interests better. Or do they think that lawyers might not have to pay the full cost of regulation if the government did it, or that the government would not get involved in expensive frills like subsidizing law libraries or running parental leave programs or paying benchers … or define whatever cost of the law society you happen to think is a frill rather than useful.

    Do they think that they would be better off in discipline cases with a body not composed largely of practising lawyers (though in Ontario at least there are lay benchers that participate in review of lawyers’ conduct)?

    No doubt there is a good deal of variance from state to state, but in some of them there is no serious professional discipline or oversight of practice standards. Ours may not be perfect, but at least there is something there to improve. So the NY Bar may charge just about nothing, but it provides just about nothing in return – and no one else does either. Would Canadian lawyers like to be disciplined by judges, as in many if not most states of the US? Do they think such a system is less vulnerable to cronyism than others?

    No doubt there are lots of things that could be improved in our system, and the list would probably be different from one province to the next. The case for radical transformation is far from made in this country, and the foreign examples of change are far too new to be useful models. Both those statements may change over time. And ‘the future of the legal profession’ as much discussed on this blog may take regulation in unexpected directions too.

    We may have to wait for evidence-based policy development on the regulation of lawyers (and paralegals?).

  4. Dave Mitchell

    Good Lord, it sounds like every article in the past few years on the RCMP!