We often talk about the “Two Solitudes” within the legal profession: the silos between the academy and the profession. However, a recent talk by the Treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada Thomas Conway made me realize that this dichotomy is wrong. There are not two solitudes within the legal profession, there are many more.
As the Director of the Cavanagh LLP Professionalism Speaker Series at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, I invited the Treasurer to speak about “The Law Society of Upper Canada: Promoting the Public Interest and Facing the Challenges of a Changing Legal World”.
Conway was remarkably candid (and optimistic). He asserted (rightly in my belief) that we have seen more changes in the regulation of the legal profession in Ontario over the past decade than we have in the previous 200 years. He likened the Canadian justice system to the city of Detroit: collapsing under its own weight and citizens forced to turn to self-help.
He talked about the fundamental change in the role of the Law Society of Upper Canada brought about by the passage of the Access to Justice Act in 2006 which amended the Law Society Act to provide, inter alia, that:
- The Society has a duty to maintain and advance the cause of justice and the rule of law.
- The Society has a duty to act so as to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario.
- The Society has a duty to protect the public interest.
Historically, the Law Society had two mandates regarding the lawyers that it regulated: (1) ensuring competency; and (2) ensuring ethical behaviour. Conway wants the Law Society to take on a third role: leadership in access to justice and in public interest.
He ended with a call for members of the legal profession to embrace and shape the change.
The nearly 100 members of the audience were composed of mostly students, some faculty members, with some healthy representation from members of the Ottawa bar – public and private – attracted by the topic, the speaker or the free accredited ethics and professionalism CPD.
In the Question and Answer period, Conway was peppered with questions from students about the Legal Practice Program (LPP) and the increase in fees for students.
It is understandable that students are concerned and angry about being forced to shoulder the lion’s share of the burden for the LPP. In a prior post, I argued that the burden of training the next generation of lawyers should be more evenly shared amongst members of the legal profession. To its credit, the LSUC is partially subsidizing the cost of the LPP. Every member will pay $25 in fees towards reducing the licensing fee for students by $500 each. I think the profession should do more.
Conway appeared sympathetic to this position but he is a realist. He told the students the cold hard truth: there is very little sympathy for the plight of law students, articling students or LPP students out there in the profession. If anything, Conway understated the harshness of feeling “out there”. The law schools are blamed for much of what ails the legal profession these days, including even the demise of Heenan Blaikie!
Frequent comments on Twitter blame the law schools for churning out more lawyers than the market can supposedly absorb (conveniently ignoring the legal profession’s chronic failure to address the shortage of legal services to the vast majority of Canadians).
No students asked Conway about how Convocation would deal with the issue of accreditation of Trinity Western University’s proposed law school with its discriminatory Community Covenant
There are actually multiple solitudes in the legal profession: a very fragmented bar consisting of large law firm lawyers, smalls and soles, in house counsel, criminal defence lawyers, government lawyers, etc. Then there are law students and articling students. And finally those of us in the academy (who are far from united on most any subject).
When I listened to the law students speak passionately about student debt and impact of fees on equity groups, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of their predecessors who are now practicing lawyers had once voiced similar concerns and how many of these current students would remain vocal once they were “in” the profession.
Conway ended his address with a call to “embrace and shape the change” in the legal profession. He is absolutely right that we have a shared future in the legal profession; whether we are able to face it together is another challenge.
Conway’s own reflections about his speech have been posted here on his blog.