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Archive for the ‘Legal Ethics’ Columns

Against Tradition

In a recent column in Canadian Lawyer, Ian Holloway, my Dean and friend, wrote in defence of lawyerly traditions, such as calling Ontario’s law society the Law Society of Upper Canada, and barrister’s robes. At the same time he emphasized the importance of professional innovation, particularly in legal education. He concluded that the ambition of lawyers should be “Change in substance, tradition in form”.

I have some serious reservations with Ian’s position. I agree that some of our traditions have modern advantages (e.g., robes neutralizing class and gender-based judgments of lawyers based on their clothes). But when we weigh the . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Contingent Fees, Portfolio Risk and Competition – Calls for Reform

In theory, contingent fee pricing is an elegant way of providing access to justice at a fair and reasonable price. In this column, I try to look at both theory and practice and also at prospects for reform.

Time and materials

Let’s start with a different approach to pricing. Legal work can be done on a “time and materials” basis (to use language from another industry), on a fixed fee basis or on a contingent fee basis. These different approaches shift risk between suppliers and consumers of legal services.

Legal work is still largely priced on a “time and materials” . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Law and Morality: Reflections on the Angela Cardinal Case

What constrains lawyer conduct? I don’t mean in terms of positive law – i.e., the codes of conduct or the decisions of the court. I mean at its source – what is the bottom line restriction on a lawyer’s professional role? I’ve been thinking about this question a great deal following the story of Angela Cardinal– the sexual assault victim who was incarcerated for 5 nights to ensure her testimony in a preliminary inquiry (trial judgment here; media reports here and here). If what happened to Angela Cardinal was wrong (and I think it’s hard to argue that . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Letter to a Future Lawyer . . .

Spring is upon us. Law school exams are over but students are still in law libraries, studying for the bar exam. These students are looking forward to becoming articled students and then lawyers. Others have received acceptance letters and are looking forward to starting law school in the fall. It is the circle of law.

I recently met a future law student, full of enthusiasm and excitement at the prospect of soon beginning law school. He was kind enough to write to me after the brief meeting and seek my advice on what to read to prepare for law school; . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Beware the Binders Full of Women (Judges)!

There has been no shortage of press on the conduct and competence of Canadian judges lately. Headlines abound about “Alberta judge who asked sex assault complainant about keeping her knees closed”, the “Hamilton judge who wore Trump hat” and the “Nova Scotia judge under fire for claiming ‘a drunk can consent’” So notorious are concerns about Canadian judges that the comedy show This Hour has 22 Minutes ran a sketch about neighbours being scared when a judge moves in down the street.

More recently, an article ran in the Globe and Mail which appears to suggest another, . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

How Lawyers Can Learn to Stop Worrying and Love CPD

Is continuing professional development a waste of time? Or, more specifically, have law societies made a mistake by using mandatory professional development as a mechanism for ensuring lawyer competence?

The Supreme Court of Canada recently upheld the Law Society of Manitoba’s mandatory CPD requirement in Green v Law Society of Manitoba 2017 SCC 20. I blogged about the case at ABlawg.ca, where I suggested that the Court’s decision was obviously correct. My analysis on that point was, though, premised on principles of administrative law – my claim was that the Court was correct to hold that the Law . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Disclosure and Investigated Complaints

It is commonly difficult for prospective clients to obtain good information about lawyers and paralegals. The significant growth of brand advertising is cogent evidence of this. Potential clients assume that brand is evidence of quality when that may well not be the case. Substantial sums are paid for brand advertising because it works. Similarly, the advertising of dubious awards and reassuring photographs evidences that lack of genuine information about quality.

Concerns about lack of information

A recent market study in England and Wales by the Competition and Markets Authority said that:

… consumers generally lack the experience and information they

. . . [more]
Posted in: Legal Ethics

A Duty to Be Technologically Competent: Coming Soon to a Professional Code of Conduct Near You?

When I suggested ten years ago that email would become the principal means by which clients and lawyers would communicate, many people suggested I was dangerous, that I was possibly insane, that I should not be allowed to speak in public, and that I certainly did not understand anything about security or confidentiality but [email] technology and many other emerging technologies have now firmly taken hold.[1]

So much has changed in a relatively short period of time when it comes to our use of technology in delivering legal services. As noted by Richard Susskind above, the use of email . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

What Actually Goes on in Articling? Ethical Obligation of Regulators . . .

The Law Society of Upper Canada is undertaking (yet another) review of its licensing process. This is at least the fifth time that it has examined changes to the licensing process since 2000. However, in all of these reviews, the Law Society has never actually examined the actual working conditions of articling students. In this it is not alone. I am not aware of any Law Society in Canada that has done so. The Law Society of Upper Canada now has the opportunity as well as the responsibility to undertake such research.

There is both a policy imperative as . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

“Truth, Justice, and the Ethical Way”: The Legal Ethics of Government Lawyers

Ever wondered what government lawyers and superheroes have in common? Although you are unlikely to see counsel in capes, flying through the metropolis, government lawyers and superheroes serve the public in the pursuit of justice. Both are accurately described as guardians of the public interest, albeit in very different contexts. Government lawyers and superheroes also hold great power and must use it to advance the public interest ahead of all else. And with great power comes great ethical responsibility.

The intersection of professional responsibility and the public service situates the unique role of federal and provincial government lawyers in the . . . [more]

Posted in: Law Student Week, Legal Ethics

Judgmental Judges

Judges exercise considerable power, and discharge a crucial public function. They identify, interpret and even create the rules that govern us. They decide what happened. And they determine the legal consequences of what happened.

But judges also exercise a defined and limited public function, and in doing so they are human, not superhuman. Judges determine and apply the law, but they do not decide questions of morality outside the law; they do not decide what it means to be a good person except as the law defines goodness. They do not – except in the specific ways the law asks . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Too Many New Lawyers? Build a Wall?

Over the last few years, there has been much debate about how to deal with the significant increase in the numbers of Canadian and foreign law school graduates seeking licensing in Ontario. While the number of articling positions has significantly increased, the number of applicants has increased even more quickly. The Law Practice Program (LPP) was established several years ago as an additional pathway to address this shortfall and to pilot a new approach to experiential training.

With a recent proposal to terminate the LPP facing substantial opposition, the Law Society of Upper Canada is now developing “long-term recommendations for . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics