Every Lawyer Needs a Guardian Angel

The Ottawa Citizen reported last week that a lawyer who posted confidential information about his own client online was caught in a police sting operation. The Ottawa criminal defence lawyer posted a PDF of disclosure that he received from the Crown in a criminal case against his client. The PDF contained blacked-out information and the lawyer used the web to seek someone to help him read the blacked out portions of the disclosure document. A man in Australia saw the post and contacted the Ottawa police who then caught the Ottawa lawyer in a sting operation. Read the Citizen article for full details.

The lawyer lost his client, was sanctioned by the court and is now under investigation by the Law Society of Upper Canada.

As someone who teaches Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility at the University of Ottawa, I wondered how could this lawyer have been so stupid? What was he thinking? Well, I bet the problem was that he wasn’t thinking.

In my experience, many lawyers get into ethical trouble because they don’t stop and think about the ethics of what they are doing. They may not even see an ethical issue. The most frightening response I have even received when I told a lawyer that I teach legal ethics is “Oh. I’ve been in practice 20 years and never had an ethical issue.” I thought, “OMG! This guy is in real trouble.” Lawyers face ethical issues every day in their practices. Kudos to Canadian law societies for finally realizing this and implementing mandatory continuing legal education that has a mandatory ethics component.

American lawyer-statesman Elihu Root famously quipped that “About half the practice of a decent lawyer is telling would-be clients that they are damned fools and should shut up. ”

When I read the Citizen article about the Ottawa lawyer, I thought of this quote. I think every lawyer needs a Guardian Angel to tell them “Don’t send that e-mail!” or “Don’t write that snarky letter!” I would have thought one wouldn’t be needed to say “Don’t post confidential information about you client online and don’t seek to do an end run around the Court’s process!” but apparently that should fall within the Guardian Angel’s job description as well.

I tell the law students that I teach that there is always someone to ask for advice – another lawyer they work with, another lawyer in the field, the Practice Advisory Service of the Law Society.

One of the things that makes our legal profession in Canada a profession, and a great one at that, is the willingness of senior members of the bar to make themselves available to junior members of the bar for advice. I would suspect that this is true across the country. It is unfortunate that the Ottawa lawyer failed to realize that he actually had many Guardian Angels out there, waiting to help him out. Unfortunately, he didn’t know how to find them. Now, hopefully others will.

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Comments

  1. It is good to hear that the Law Society acted in this matter, however I have seen where the LSUC has permitted a lawyer to assist his client to commit an Offence under a provincial statute which is not only an ethical issue, but an issue which involved direct violations of the LSUC Code of Conduct for lawyers.

    I will clarify that it is not a case of a corporation committing an offence, then getting a lawyer to help defend it. That is obviously completely above board.

    The issues is that the corporation (Ottawa Children’s Aid Society) retained legal counsel to assist them in the commission of an offence. Here’s how.

    Citizen requested a list of the Society’s members in accordance with ss. 307(1) of the Corporations Act, R.S.O. 1990 c. C-38. The Society retained counsel to respond, instructing their lawyer to tell the requesting citizen they will not give the list, which is an offence to fail to do (an “absolute liability” offence as per the Sault-St. Marie case which defined strict and absolute liability cases)

    I would love to talk some time to Adam Dodek about this matter in case it might make a presentation on etics to his law students.

    John Dunn
    Executive Director
    Foster Care Council of Canada
    Ottawa, ON
    613-709-3866