Canada’s online legal magazine.

Archive for the ‘Legal Ethics’ Columns

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

Criticizing Judges in a Trump Era

What does ethical criticism of a judge or judgment require? Or, to put it slightly differently, on what basis might we say that a criticism of a judge or judgment is improper?

Recent comments by Donald Trump make this question seem straightforward. The President’s tweets were clearly inappropriate. It is not acceptable for the President to refer to a Federal Court trial judge as a “so-called judge”, to describe the judge’s decision as terrible (Feb 4), to call a Federal Appeals Court judgment a “disgraceful decision” (February 10) and, most chillingly, to say “Just cannot believe a judge would put . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Cultural Competence and the Next Generation of Lawyers and Lawyer Regulation

Every year, I have the pleasure of teaching first year law students at the University of Ottawa in a dispute resolution and professional responsibility course. A big part of the course involves having students gain “hands-on” experience through simulations where they interview clients, write client advice letters, negotiate with opposing counsel and conduct mediations. For someone with a passion for legal ethics like me, the course is extra fun because this practical experience is coupled with extensive instruction on professional responsibility issues. Among other things, at the end of the term, the students write a final paper reflecting on one . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Time for Webcams in the Courtroom? the Imperative of Transparency and Accountability

“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” So declared Louis Brandeis over a century ago. Brandeis’ argument was that shining a light on activities both exposed wrongdoing as well as deterred it. The second part of his quote is that “electric light the most efficient policeman.”[i] Writing in 1914, Brandeis was ahead of his time. In 2017, his words should make us sit up and take notice. Especially when it comes to the administration of justice.

Justice Morris Fish – recently named to the Order of Canada – understood Brandeis’ quote more than others. Fish was a former . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Access to Justice Needs Access to Research

In December, the UK Competition & Markets Authority released its Legal services market study focused on individual consumer and small business experience of purchasing legal services in England and Wales. Not surprisingly, this report (the “CMA Market Study”) found:

Overall, we have found that the legal services sector is not working well for individual consumers and small businesses. These consumers generally lack the experience and information they need to find their way around the legal services sector and to engage confidently with providers. Consumers find it hard to make informed choices because there is very little transparency about price, service

. . . [more]
Posted in: Legal Ethics

Defending Rapists

Lawyers who defend people accused of sexual assault tend to be subject to one of two narratives in popular conversations, particularly on social media:

The critical narrative: Sexual assault is a violent and under reported crime. Our criminal justice system further victimizes complainants by treating their claims with unwarranted skepticism, and by degrading them both during the investigation of the crime and during the trial of the accused. Lawyers who represent an accused in sexual assault cases engage in morally suspect conduct, except in those (rare) cases where the accused is factually innocent. They directly participate in the victimization . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Transparency Can Be Tricky: Questions About Solving the Lawyer Quality Information Gap

In a recent Slaw blog, Malcolm Mercer thoughtfully explores how information asymmetry between legal service providers and consumers may impact access to justice. He suggests that creative solutions are necessary in order to provide the public with better information about the quality of lawyers and the legal services that they provide.

Mercer makes a good point: if the public feels that it can’t accurately assess the quality of legal services, there is a risk that people won’t retain lawyers or, at the very least, people may feel compelled to hire those practitioners who charge lower rates even if they . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics