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Archive for the ‘Legal Ethics’ Columns

Access to Justice Levies for Lawyers: Putting Our Money Where Our Mouths Are

Tyrell Moodie, accused of drug offences and facing several years in prison, was denied a Legal Aid Ontario certificate because his income of $16,211 per year exceeded the cut-off threshold. In Manitoba this summer, refugees faced an 11-year wait list for legal aid funding. Self-represented litigants are now the majority in many family courts, mostly because people cannot afford the legal assistance that they would love to have, and legal aid won’t pay for it.

Every media story about a legal aid shortfall includes a quote from a lawyer, pointing the finger at the government for inadequate funding. However, . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Who’s a Law Society For?

Canadian law societies operate under a public interest mandate. This premise is often presented without much fanfare or introspection – as a fait accompli, as a matter of common sense, as something always there and always having been there. And, to be sure, there is a way that this framing makes eminent sense. It’s a legal reality as reflected in legislation governing law societies. And, on a more conceptual level, if not for a concern for the public interest, why regulate lawyers at all?

However, once we peel back even a few layers of the onion skin, it quickly . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Cost Disease, the Practice of Law and Access to Justice

How is it that we are such a wealthy society yet services that were once available are no longer available (at least at affordable prices)? Many people, but certainly not all, had help in their homes and farms, even full-time help. Doctors used to make house calls. When I was a child, the milkman[1] made deliveries each day. There used to be people who actually answered telephones in businesses.

What we call the “access to justice” problem seems to be similar in nature. We know that the number of self-represented litigants has dramatically increased over the last four decades. . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Ontario’s Law Society: Orwell’s Big Brother or Fuller’s Rex?

On September 13, 2017 Ontario’s Law Society with no name sent a now infamous e-mail to its licensees stating:

You will need to create and abide by an individual Statement of Principles that acknowledges your obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion generally, and in your behaviour towards colleagues, employees, clients and the public. You will be asked to report on the creation and implementation of a Statement of Principles in your 2017 Annual Report.

While some have defended the Statement (see Omar Ha-Redeye here on SLAW and Renatta Austin’s comments on The Current) most commentary has been harshly . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Women Know Who the Predators Are

In the past few years, sexual harassment allegations against several high-profile media executives have generated significant discussion, including on social media. Last week’s New York Times story titled “Decades of Sexual Harassment Accusations Against Harvey Weinstein” is no exception. My Twitter feed was alight with comments and commentary moments after the story was published. A couple of tweets in particular grabbed my attention:

. . . [more]
Posted in: Legal Ethics

Generalism and Access to Justice: Jack of All Trades, Master of None?

The rise of specialization is among the biggest changes in the practice of law over the past hundred years. Most lawyers and paralegals are increasingly able to focus on a smaller number of legal niches. That is good news, for practitioners and also for clients. However, I will suggest here that generalist legal professionalism has an enduring role in fostering access to justice.

Specialization and Generalism Defined

Consider all of the different types of legal need experienced by Canadian individuals, corporations, and state entities within a year. The list would include everything from drafting a will to structuring a merger . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

The Unfortunate Incident of the TWU Intervention Decisions

On July 27, 2017 Justice Wagner denied intervenor status to 17 of 26 applicants in the Trinity Western University cases before the Supreme Court, including the applications of all LGBTQ+ identifying groups. Following an immediate and negative public reaction, particularly on social media, Chief Justice McLachlin used her scheduling power to add a second day to the TWU hearings, and then extended intervention status to the 17 applicants whom Justice Wagner originally rejected (Both orders can be found here). Two days later, Justice Wagner gave an interview to the Globe and Mail explaining that he had “no intention to . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Conflicted Regulation in the Public Interest

Fiduciary law deals strictly with conflicts of interest. A fiduciary is not permitted to have an interest that conflicts with the duties owed to their beneficiary unless the conflict and all material facts have been disclosed and consent is obtained Sharbern Holding Inc. v. Vancouver Airport Centre Ltd., 2011 SCC 23. Where a fiduciary benefits without consent, the fiduciary is ordinarily required to disgorge the benefit whether or not the beneficiary’s interests have been compromised. Strother v. 3464920 Canada Inc., 2007 SCC 24

The Rules of Professional Conduct are no less strict. It is professional misconduct for . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Time for Technology Ethics Opinions in Canada?

Lawyer competence is a relatively new concern for Canadian law societies. It was only in the 1970s, for example, that law societies really embraced the idea that they had a formal mandate to regulate the post-entry competence of lawyers. In addition to being a relatively new regulatory concern, lawyer competence is also an increasingly complex issue. Law practice has become highly specialized. Also, our understanding of lawyer competence has become more nuanced, now implicating a wide range of matters including, for example, technology, culture and wellness.

How best to handle this modern reality? Adding length and detail to rules of . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Personal Plight: Mending the Market

“Personal plight” legal services are those provided to individual clients whose legal needs arise from disputes. Personal plight areas such as family law, refugee law, and human rights are the site of Canada’s worst access to justice problems.

The market for personal plight legal services functions poorly, as Malcolm Mercer and Amy Salyzyn have shown in this space. A key problem, I suggest here, is that it is too difficult for consumers to shop intelligently. This undermines healthy competition and legal professionalism, in addition to access to justice. Regulators can and should mend the market for personal legal services. . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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