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Archive for the ‘Legal Ethics’ Columns

Fingers Crossed for a Sandbox!

What makes for an effective and efficient law society? This isn’t a question without controversy. The last several decades abound with debate about what exactly Canadian law societies should be doing and how they should be doing it. Two propositions, however, strike me as relatively uncontroversial: (1) law societies should engage in evidence-based policy making; and (2) law societies should continually evolve their approaches in response to changes in the legal services environment. In short, we need smart and relevant regulation.

The regulatory “sandbox” that will be considered by Law Society of Ontario (LSO) Benchers next week is a prime . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Ensuring Professional Competence?

In February, it was reported that the UK’s Legal Services Board was moving forward with plans to introduce “continuing competence checks” for lawyers. This could involve the regulator obtaining feedback from consumers, judges and peers; making quality assurance visits; and possibly even requiring formal revalidation of lawyers’ credentials.

In my last column, I discussed how the raison d’être of lawyer regulation is to ensure that anyone providing legal services will meet standards of professional competence and professional conduct. In Ontario, this is codified in s. 4.1(a) of the Law Society Act.

But I have long wondered: Is the . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Looking at Legal Ethics Through the Lens of Family Violence

The words “family violence”, “domestic violence”, “intimate partner violence” and “coercive control” do not appear anywhere in the Federation of Law Societies of Canada Model Code of Professional Conduct. The Code does not typically have special rules for special areas of practice, but family violence is not strictly a family law matter. Family violence can be an issue in immigration and refugee law, employment law, corporate law, criminal law, landlord-tenant law, and real estate law, to name a few.[1] When family violence is overlooked, the absence of recognition can perpetuate harm through the justice system. Family violence is . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Not Everyone’s Lawyer?

Should law societies impose gender or age-based restrictions on a lawyer’s practice? Stated otherwise, is it appropriate to permit a lawyer to continue to practice on conditions that restrict their interaction with women (or men) or minors? For the reasons that follow, I believe that the answer to both of these questions is “no”.

The issue of practice restrictions of this sort first caught my attention several years ago when a Connecticut lawyer received a lifetime ban on representing women. This lawyer had been the subject of multiple misconduct allegations by female clients which included accusations of unwanted sexual advances . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Justice Delayed and Denied in Ontario’s Tribunals

Widespread distrust of government helped Donald Trump bring the United States to its knees. Only 17% of Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing most of the time in 2019, down from over 70% in the 1960s. People who lack any confidence in government tend to be receptive to anti-government populist messages.

The best way to preserve public trust in government is to ensure, as much as possible, that government acts in a trustworthy way. What does this have to do with Ontario’s administrative tribunals? Statutes such as the Human Rights Code, the Residential Tenancies Act . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Why Do We Regulate Lawyers?

This is my first legal ethics column for Slaw. I am delighted and honoured to be taking the place of my former colleague, mentor, and all-around legal ethics and regulation rock star, Malcolm Mercer, who recently assumed the role of Chair of Ontario’s Law Society Tribunal. In the coming months and beyond, I look forward to using this space to consider rules of professional conduct and discipline; governance issues in lawyer regulation; legal education and training; and the future of legal services provision. But before diving into these topics, I propose to take a step back and first consider . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Is It Time to Regulate Collaborative Practice?

Collaborative practice is a dispute resolution process that is primarily used in family law, and it is currently unregulated in Canada. The forthcoming amendments to the Divorce Act include collaborative practice as a “family dispute resolution process” that a lawyer ought to “encourage” her client to consider, where “appropriate”. This suggests to me that a process that has for the last 30 years has been largely community-based, has finally come into its own – into the federal scope of the Divorce Act and therefore into the collective conscience of all Canadian family lawyers. This begs the question of whether it . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

A Taxonomy for Lawyer Technological Competence

Over the past decade, many commentators, myself included, have argued that lawyers should have a duty of technological competence. This duty now exists: in October 2019, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada amended its Model Code rule on competence to include explicit reference to technological competence. Several provincial and territorial law societies have incorporated this amendment into their respective codes, and more will hopefully soon follow suit.

The fact that there now exists a formal duty of technological competence raises the question of what, exactly, does this duty entail? What does this duty require from lawyers? In a strict . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics, Legal Technology

If You See Something, Say Nothing: Why Lawyers Don’t Report to the Law Society

In identifying professional misconduct, legal regulators are heavily reliant on client complaints and receive relatively little help from practitioners. For example, 71% of complaints to the Law Society of Ontario in 2019 were brought forward by members of the public (typically clients) while only 12% came from legal professionals. The problem is that there are many forms of professional misconduct that only professionals, and not clients, can readily identify. Misconduct therefore goes undetected, leaving clients and others to be victimized by bad lawyers who should have been caught after previous offences.

This is especially true in practice areas where clients . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Rethinking Ontario’s Anti-SLAPP Law After Bent v. Platnick

In 2015, Ontario passed legislation aimed at protecting defendants from lawsuits stifling expressions made in the public interest. One aspect of this law is that it allows defendants to successfully bring an expedited motion to dismiss even in circumstances where the plaintiff’s action has substantial merit and there are no valid defences that could reasonably be advanced at trial.

This is known as the “public interest hurdle” analysis and, more exactly, provides that an action will not be dismissed if the plaintiff can show

the harm likely to be or have been suffered by the responding party [plaintiff] as a

. . . [more]
Posted in: Justice Issues, Legal Ethics

The Myth of the Honest Negotiator

A lawyer has an obligation to be honourable and a duty of integrity. In a negotiation, a lawyer will not be completely honest. Both of these statements are true, but they seem contradictory. The Federation of Law Societies of Canada’s Model Code of Professional Conduct, does not expressly prohibit a lawyer from lying to another lawyer, but the Code does include provisions that promote integrity, honesty and honour. In this post, I attempt to defend the idea that an honourable lawyer can engage in a small range of permitted deception during negotiations.

James White famously framed the question of . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Judicial Analytics: Facing Uncomfortable Truths

For as long as there have been judges, people have tried to predict judges’ decisions. In so doing, they have always understood that judges are human beings. They are not calculators from an assembly line, each of which will display the same result if one punches in the same inputs. Thus, at any watering hole where litigators gather, it will be overheard that “Justice Smith comes down hard on drug offenders,” or “If your client has soft-tissue injuries, you had better hope that you don’t draw Justice Jones for the trial.”

In France, it would seem that such conversations are . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics