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Archive for the ‘Legal Ethics’ Columns

Too Much Information!

Discussions of legal ethics and protection of information often don’t distinguish between confidential information and privileged information. The seminal case of Macdonald Estate v. Martin[i] provides a good example. As Justice Sopinka put it:

Typically, these cases require two questions to be answered: (1) Did the lawyer receive confidential information attributable to a solicitor and client relationship relevant to the matter at hand? (2) Is there a risk that it will be used to the prejudice of the client?

Of course, not all confidential information received by a lawyer in the context of a solicitor and client relationship is . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Ensuring Competent Representation: Know What You Don’t Know

You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em
Know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done

The Gambler (Don Schlitz; performed by Kenny Rogers)

Being a competent lawyer means knowing your own limits. Lawyers representing clients in cases for which they do not have the necessary knowledge and skills risk liability in negligence, being found to have provided ineffective assistance of counsel (in a criminal case) and violating the obligations of the . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Familiar Complaints: The State of the Legal Profession in Israel

There are too many lawyers. Too many law schools. The bar exam is too easy. The Law Society should fail more applicants. Such statements are familiar in Canada but they are also heard in Israel where I am spending part of the year as a Visiting Scholar at the David Weiner Centre for Lawyers’ Ethics and Professional Responsibility and as a Visiting Professor at the Halbert Center for Canadian Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

When I was much younger, I worked for a year in the Israeli court system as a law clerk so I know something about . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

The Real “Articling Crisis”?

The Law Society of Upper Canada is again in the news. This time, the focus is on the recently released Consultation Paper entitled Addressing Challenges Faced by Racialized Licensees. An article in the Toronto Star has called the report “blunt” and characterized it as “containing disquieting findings.” Another piece in the Law Times, titled “Non-white lawyers feel alienated, report finds” details a variety of the report’s findings and highlights LSUC’s invitation for input.

This media attention is no doubt a positive thing. The Consultation Paper confirms what many have been saying for years: “racialization is a constant and persistent . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Trinity Western… Again

I can’t stop thinking about the law society decisions on Trinity Western University (TWU). Part of the reason for that is the complexity and difficulty of the substantive issue raised by TWU’s proposed law school: the proper resolution of an irreducible conflict between equality rights and freedom of religion (I discuss that here). But as I spent the last few weeks teaching administrative law procedural fairness, I realized that the other thing bothering me about the law society decisions is the process used to reach them.

As far as I can tell, each law society that has independently considered . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

A Different Take on ABS – Proponents and Opponents Both Miss the Point

The Lawyers Weekly recently included an article by Cristin Schmitz entitled Study sounds note of caution in ABS debate. Ms. Schmitz discusses a thoughtful paper by Nick Robinson who is a research fellow with the Harvard Program on the Legal Profession.

In an interview with Ms. Schmitz, Mr. Robinson said:

“I’ve been amazed in this debate how much each side kind of talks past each other, dismisses the concerns of the other side, or the point of the other side. I am a bit cautious about non-lawyer ownership in the paper, but I can also see in certain situations

. . . [more]
Posted in: Legal Ethics

Tackling Technology

The intersection of legal ethics and technological competency has been a recurring theme in Slaw and other forums for a number of years (see, for example, here, here, and here).

Exactly what type of technological competence a lawyer needs to have has been debated and, presumably, will constantly evolve as technology itself evolves (for discussion of what minimum tech standards might look like, see Mitch Kowalski’s and Omar Ha-Redeye’s previous Slaw posts here and here). There is a growing consensus, however, that all lawyers require some level of technological competence in order to meet their professional . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Tweeter or Twitter? Teaching a Federation Approved Legal Ethics Course

This summer I again provided the Federation of Law Societies with the syllabus for my legal ethics course. The Federation requested the syllabus for, presumably, the purpose of verifying that the University of Calgary’s course complies with the Ethics and Professionalism Competency as set out in Table B of the Federation’s Implementation Report for the Approved Law Degree. As it did the past two summers fulfilling the Federation’s request left me feeling both uneasy and uncertain.

Uncertain because I am not sure what the Federation wants to do with the syllabus. Are they simply ascertaining that it is a stand-alone . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Independence and Self-Regulation: I’m OK but I’m Not So Sure About You!

It is entirely human to fail to appreciate when one’s judgment is affected by a conflicting personal interest or duty. Our conflicts rules reflect this problem. Where there is a substantial risk of impairment of representation, clients get to decide whether to accept that risk. Where representation will be materially impaired, lawyers cannot act even with client consent.

This concern about conflicting interests is well rooted in behavioural psychology. Dan Ariely, an author and a professor of psychology and behavioural economics[i], writes on this topic[ii].

In his book The Honest Truth about Dishonesty, Professor Ariely . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Verdict a Victory for Defamed Professor and Defamed Justice System

In June a jury awarded my uOttawa colleague Professor Joanne St. Lewis a stunning $350,000 verdict in her defamation lawsuit against blogger and former University of Ottawa professor Denis Rancourt. The jury’s verdict not only vindicated St. Lewis but also the entire justice system because the defendant had impugned the integrity of most of the judges who participated in the proceedings and the integrity of the Canadian justice system.

Let me be transparent in exposing my connections to the dramatis personae and my own biases about the case. Professor St. Lewis is a colleague whom I consider a friend and . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Of Labels and Letterhead

What’s a lawyer good for?

This isn’t a new question: the role and value of the legal profession has long been a subject of discussion. It does seem, however, that this question is now being raised with increasing frequency in a variety of forums. As technology continues to advance, important questions continue to be raised about what tasks still require the input of specially trained (and often expensive) legal professionals. Growing concern with access to justice has inspired similar types of questions. As Malcolm Mercer has argued in his recent Slaw column: “If we cannot find ways to effectively . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

You Can’t Have It Both Ways

Either limit the regulatory monopoly or provide for the efficient and effective delivery of legal services for all legal problems

Access to justice and legal services is a central challenge both for society and for the legal profession. The extent to which members of the public are unserved, under-served or inefficiently served is a difficult issue for lawyers being both a challenge to existing practice and an opportunity for innovation.

As suggested in earlier columns, it seems to me that this access question raises central ethical questions. If there are some legal services which are not provided by lawyers[i] . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics