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The Volkswagen Scandal: When We Ask, “Where Were the Lawyers?” Do We Ask the Wrong Question?

Every institutional ethics scandal – Watergate, the 2008 Financial Crisis, Enron, the Savings and Loan Scandal, the Daily Mail hacking scandal – prompts the question: where were the lawyers?

In its asking, “the question” expresses both faith and disappointment – faith that lawyers help ensure lawful conduct; disappointment that in this case (whichever case it is) they appear not to have done so. “The question” is, in short, fundamentally optimistic. While it acknowledges that here the lawyers failed, it rests on the premise – or at least maintains the hope – that, somehow, lawyers can do . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

4 Tech/geek Events From Yesterday

Yesterday was a busy day in the tech/geek world.

Edward Snowden got a twitter account yesterday. His profile includes “I used to work for the government. Now I work for the public.” As I write this he has just under a million followers. At least he has a sense of humour – the only twitter account he follows is the NSA.

Tesla announced the long awaited Model X SUV, complete with falcon wing doors and a “bioweapon defense mode” button on the air filtration system.

Google announced new updated phones, the release of their new Marshmallow OS, . . . [more]

Posted in: Technology

Physics and the Strategic Reinvention of the Legal Profession

F=ma. Sir Isaac Newton, in his second law of motion, tells us why it is so hard to get the legal profession to adopt new technology.

Newton’s second law says that for any force you apply to an object, the amount of acceleration you get is inversely proportional to the mass of that object. That means that the larger the object is, the smaller the acceleration you will get (for a given force). This is called “inertia”.

Lawyers have a lot of mass. I don’t mean that they are physically massive people; rather I mean that, as a body of . . . [more]

Posted in: Technology

Wednesday: What’s Hot on CanLII

Each Wednesday we tell you which three English-language cases and which French-language case have been the most viewed* on CanLII and we give you a small sense of what the cases are about.

For this last week:

1. R. v. Last, 2009 SCC 45, [2009] 3 SCR 146

[1] The Crown enjoys a large discretion in deciding to include more than one count in an indictment (s. 591(1) of the Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46). On an application to sever a multi-count indictment, the overarching criteria are the interests of justice. This appeal raises the issue of whether a . . . [more]

Posted in: Wednesday: What's Hot on CanLII

Boost Your Immunity to Stress With the What-Went-Well Exercise

Anne couldn’t sleep. She lay in bed thinking about a mistake she made, the pile of work on her desk, and the infinite number of things that could go wrong.

Sound familiar?

I had a night like that last night, lying awake at two am pondering a variety of worst-case scenarios.

If you find yourself experiencing stress attacks in the middle of the night, you are not alone. Most of us have experienced nights like that, and for a good reason: Our brains have adapted to do two things very well – make predictions, and focus on what could go . . . [more]

Posted in: Practice of Law

Apology Accepted, but Not as Evidence!

From a young age, we’re all taught to apologize when we do something wrong. As we get older, we learn to apologize even when we are right (or think we are – see here for further information related to apologies in the marital context).

However, in a professional context, we often hesitate to apologize out of fear for liability. Fortunately, in Ontario, there is legislation in place to take mitigate some of that risk and allow people to apologize with less fear.

The Ontario Apology Act came into force on April 23, 2009. Section 2(1) states that “an apology made . . . [more]

Posted in: Substantive Law: Legislation

Style Makes the … Contract?

Why do lawyers write so badly? Save and except, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, writers and their heirs, successors, and assigns whose right, title, and interest in and to the aforesaid subject matter is or may be, with the giving of notice or the lapse of time, … Sorry, that sentence got away from me!

The push towards plain language drafting is, of course, nothing new. Joseph Kimble, Emeritus professor at WMU–Cooley Law School, has been writing on the topic for more than 30 years. He has written two books, including Lifting the Fog of Legalese and . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Technology

Appeal Judge Rips Trial Judge’s Conduct Towards Self-Represented Defendant

A Superior Court Judge has tossed out a Small Claims Court judgment for a long list of reasons which primarily involve the inappropriate manner in which the trial judge dealt with the self-represented defendant throughout the course of the trial.

The reasons for granting the appeal span 92 paragraphs. The conduct of the trial judge becomes increasingly unbelievable as the reasons unfold. The decision is worth a read in its entirety and the findings include the following:

The trial judge had not read any of the material before the trial;

The trial judge gave the defendant “two minutes” to explain . . . [more]

Posted in: Case Comment, Practice of Law

Tips Tuesday

Here are excerpts from the most recent tips on SlawTips, the site that each week offers up useful advice, short and to the point, on technology, research and practice.


The Long Tail…
David Bilinsky

Lawyers, I surmise, believe with their long history and experience that they are the innovators of any changes in the legal/justice system. However, that theory may need further examination. In fact it may have to be turned onto its head.


Easy Instant Lines in Microsoft Word*
Dan Pinnington

In Microsoft Word (including Mac versions) you can easily create a variety of horizontal lines . . . [more]

Posted in: Tips Tuesday

ABS in Ontario Killed by the Foul Stench of Protectionism

It would be really easy to read last week’s report from the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Working Group on Alternative Business Structures as thoughtful and considered.

Afterall, it has all the hallmarks of a judicial decision – using all the right words and heck, even using numbered paragraphs; no surprise given that Convocation is over-weighted with litigators, many of whom aspire to be judges themselves.

But if you scratch beneath the surface of the report, one quickly finds that all the judicial language in the world cannot hide what really happened in the LSUC Star Chamber amid the fine . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues, Practice of Law, Practice of Law: Future of Practice

Volkswagen, Proprietary Software and Getting Caught

Last week there was an interesting post by Xeni Jardin on Boing-Boing concerning the Volkswagen emissions scandal. Jardin cites a New York Times article by Jim Dywer called, “Volkswagen’s Diesel Fraud Makes Critic of Secret Code a Prophet” published earlier in the week.

This is the bit that caught immediately my attention at Boing-Boing:

“Proprietary software is an unsafe building material. You can’t inspect it.”

That quote comes from a talk Columbia Law School professor Eben Moglen gave to the Scottish Society for Computers and Law about 5 years ago, “When Software is in Everything: Future . . . [more]

Posted in: Technology

Monday’s Mix

Each Monday we present brief excerpts of recent posts from five of Canada’s award­-winning legal blogs chosen at random* from sixty recent Clawbie winners. In this way we hope to promote their work, with their permission, to as wide an audience as possible.

This week the randomly selected blogs are 1. Youth and Work  2. Clio Blog 3.  4. Global Workplace Insider  5. Vincent Gautrais

Youth and Work
Why Are Ryerson University and Bell Media Advertising a Wage Theft Scam?

So it seems that Ryerson University has teamed up with Bell Media to advertise a little back to school . . . [more]

Posted in: Monday’s Mix