The Authentic Lawyer?

There’s a bit of buzz in Winnipeg this week about the International Downtown Association’s 63rd annual conference taking place here. The theme of the conference is Authenticity, which seems apt in these days of fake news and fake nudes.

Living authentically is an ideal espoused by many authors and speakers in the self-improvement sector, whether that path to authenticity is found through meditation, spiritual transformation or some other means. The general idea is simply that an individual aspires to and works toward being the best possible version of themselves, with their interior self in alignment with their exterior self. This approach to personal development was highlighted in a piece posted today on The Lawyer’s Daily, featuring an interview with Judge Kael Mackenzie of the Provincial Court of Manitoba, who summarizes his own path as follows: “For me, it’s just been about being my authentic self and moving forward.”

The concept of authentic living relates closely, I think, to a lawyer’s duty of integrity, which has also been on my mind recently. I learned this week that the incoming CPLED class at The Law Society of Manitoba just received their annual lecture on the duty of integrity and how that directly translates to their completion and submission of assignments in the program. The gist of the talk was, as I heard it, submit your own work and don’t think we’re not serious about plagiarism. That’s a good message to convey to articling students but hopefully went a little further in terms of what integrity also means to clients and the profession as a whole.

Also this week, Manitoba’s Chief Justice Richard Chartier, welcomed 1Ls to Robson Hall with his own comments on integrity (as reported here):

“Integrity is doing what’s right, regardless of who is watching,” he said, emphasising that the first rule in the Code of Conduct is Integrity, the number one fundamental quality of any person of the legal profession. “Your integrity is what determines your reputation,” he said, quoting the old saying, “But by your words and actions shall ye be known.”

As Chief Justice Chartier pointed out, the lawyer’s duty of integrity is the first set out in the Code of Professional Conduct. It reads, in the Model Code, as follows:

2.1-1 A lawyer has a duty to carry on the practice of law and discharge all responsibilities to clients, tribunals, the public and other members of the profession honourably and with integrity.

The Commentary to this provision sets out the fundamental nature of integrity to the practice of law, noting that:

If a client has any doubt about his or her lawyer’s trustworthiness, the essential element in the true lawyer-client relationship will be missing. If integrity is lacking, the lawyer’s usefulness to the client and reputation within the profession will be destroyed, regardless of how competent the lawyer may be.

The Code makes it clear that integrity is of greater value than even the competence of a lawyer. Based on my own experiences working within a law society and in the field of legal malpractice insurance, I’m not sure that this priority has always been sufficiently emphasized in lawyer training and I was therefore quite pleased to hear that law students and articling students were both this week hearing of the importance of integrity in their professional lives.

The Commentary goes on to note that while law societies will generally not be concerned with “…the purely private or extra-professional activities of a lawyer that do not bring into question the lawyer’s professional integrity,” questionable conduct in either private or professional life will reflect adversely on the integrity of both the profession and the administration of justice.

The next provision of the Code, still under the heading of Integrity, sets out the requirement that lawyers uphold the standards and reputation of the legal profession. The Commentary to s. 2.1-2 provides specific direction on how lawyers can do so:

Collectively, lawyers are encouraged to enhance the profession through activities such as:
(a) sharing knowledge and experience with colleagues and students informally in day-to-day practice as well as through contribution to professional journals and publications, support of law school projects and participation in panel discussions, legal education seminars, bar admission courses and university lectures;
(b) participating in legal aid and community legal services programs or providing legal services on a pro bono basis;
(c) filling elected and volunteer positions with the Society;
(d) acting as directors, officers and members of local, provincial, national and international bar associations and their various committees and sections; and
(e) acting as directors, officers and members of non-profit or charitable organizations.

This list of encouraged activities warms my heart as a non-profit executive director, but also makes clear what it means to uphold the standards of the legal profession and expands the notion of practising law with integrity beyond the sphere of client service to include service of the profession, pro bono work and volunteering in the charitable and non-profit sectors.

Underlying the duty of integrity is this idea of being consistent in your personal and professional life, or, to say it another way, authentic in both. For example, if you are concerned about justice, that should be evident not only in your paid work but also in your “extracurricular” activities and involvements as a lawyer and community member. While this may go a bit beyond how many might read or apply the Code of Professional Conduct, I suggest it is consistent with the values of a profession that has historically been viewed as more of a vocation or calling. In fact, the introduction to the Model Code points to the special responsibilities that come with the privileged position lawyers hold in society:

While this may go a bit beyond how many might read or apply the Code of Professional Conduct, I suggest it is consistent with the values of a profession that has historically been viewed as more of a vocation or calling. In fact, the introduction to the Model Code points to the special responsibilities that come with the privileged position lawyers hold in society:

As participants in a justice system that advances the Rule of Law, lawyers hold a unique and privileged position in society….Members of the legal profession who draft, argue, interpret and challenge the law of the land can attest to the robust legal system in Canada. They also acknowledge the public’s reliance on the integrity of the people who work within the legal system and the authority exercised by the governing bodies of the profession. While lawyers are consulted for their knowledge and abilities, more is expected of them than forensic acumen. A special ethical responsibility comes with membership in the legal profession.

Integrity as a value of the legal profession encompasses not only the way we work but who we are in our lives outside of our paid work. The duty requires a high degree of authenticity and consistency between the public and private lives of lawyers. I don’t recall hearing much about this when I was entering the profession, but based on what I’ve heard this week, am hopeful that the fundamental value of integrity in the legal profession is given appropriate emphasis in the education of law and articling students.


  1. A “lifestyle” based on integrity as opposed to a duty of integrity would make authenticity a lot easier. In other words, authenticity should flow from living a life in which integrity is a way of life as opposed to what may seem for some as a “forced” duty.

  2. Good point Verna! The source of integrity should be internal to the individual rather than externally imposed by a regulator.