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Archive for the ‘Legal Ethics’ Columns

Thoughts About Self-Regulation in the Public Interest

It is no secret that that self-regulation can be compromised by the tension between the public interest and the interest of the regulated profession[i]. This tension leads some to say that self-regulation is inherently flawed and should come to an end.

In this column, I suggest that:

  • it may be useful to recognize that conflicting professional interests are more in tension in some areas than in others and accordingly to look for ways to mitigate that tension where it is potentially problematic
  • there may be limited measures that can be used to mitigate such tension without having to
. . . [more]
Posted in: Legal Ethics

Developing Privacy Best Practices for Direct-to-Public Legal Apps: Observations and Lessons Learned

What privacy issues arise when legal apps are used by the public? What are current best practices for safeguarding privacy interests when developing legal apps? What do developers think? What challenges arise in developing privacy best practices for legal apps?

Along with my colleagues Suzanne Bouclin, Jena McGill and Teresa Scassa, I recently completed a project that tried to answer these questions. A pre-print version of the peer-reviewed article that discusses this project at length can be found here. This column will provide highlights of the discussion contained in that article.


We were inspired to develop privacy best . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Get It in Writing: Legal Fees, Retainer Contracts and Newell v. Sax

Should a lawyer decide how much his client should pay him, and then write himself a cheque for that amount, without the client’s agreement? Is a discretionary judicial decision about the value of a legal service an adequate substitute for an agreement between lawyer and client? In Newell v. Sax, the Ontario Court of Appeal effectively answered “yes” to both of these questions. In my view, arbitrary fees invented by lawyers, or judges, are a grave and unnecessary threat to legal ethics. The law should insist on upfront disclosure and clear contractual agreements about legal fees, absent very exceptional . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

SNC-Lavalin Report Reveals Limitations of the Ethics Office

By all accounts, last week’s Ethics Commissioner Report on the SNC-Lavalin controversy was a bombshell, condemning as it did Mr. Trudeau’s improper attempts to infringe the prosecutorial independence of the Attorney-General’s office.

But other than revealing the extraordinary access of SNC-Lavalin to the highest ranks of government and the magnitude of the combined efforts to obtain a deferred prosecution agreement that would dismiss foreign corruption charges against the company, we learned very little we did not know before.

Indeed, the most striking part of Mr. Dion’s report is that he was denied access to important information that would bring all . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues, Legal Ethics

Adding Courts to the Lawyer Wellness Discussion

Like many other teachers of legal ethics, I have started to incorporate more discussions about “lawyer wellness” into my classes in recent years. Issues such as lawyers’ mental health and dealing with stress haven’t traditionally been part of the legal ethics curriculum. It is obvious, however, that they now must. We have undeniable evidence that members of the legal profession disproportionately experience mental health challenges. Given this reality, it’s essential that we acknowledge the importance of lawyer health and happiness in law school and strive to foster a community that works to improve outcomes. Studying this topic in a legal . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

The Absent Ethics of Legal Fees : Putting Profit-Seeking in Its Place

A lawyer should be a loyal ally for a person with a legal need. This loyalty is at the core of our profession’s value proposition to society. Thus, legal ethics strives to guarantee devoted service to clients. Conflict of interest rules prohibit all situations creating “substantial risk” that the lawyer’s loyalty to a client “would be materially and adversely affected by the lawyer’s own interest.” Lawyers, as fiduciaries, must be “concerned solely for the beneficiary [client]’s interests, never the fiduciary [lawyer]’s own.”

There is, however, a glaring exception to the duty of selfless loyalty to clients. Lawyers are allowed . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

The Costs of Regulation

The Law Society of Ontario bencher election finished at the end of April. The cost of regulation and the finances of the Law Society were the focus of some of the campaigns by bencher candidates. Perhaps not surprisingly in a campaign context, some of the comments were hyperbolic and some were rather imprecise.

This column seeks to address what lawyers in Ontario are required to pay in order to be able to practice law. The point of this review is to help better understand where the money goes to better inform discussions. I will look at this issue from the . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

The Cat and Mouse Game of Alberta’s Ethics Investigations

Alberta political Insiders could not have been surprised by Ethics Commissioner Trussler’s decision last Friday finding Jason Kenney’s use of the “Premier” prefix for UCP fundraising correspondence not to be a conflict of interest. That’s because Trussler previously determined in similar cases involving previous Premiers that the use of public office for partisan purposes is beyond the scope of her legislated mandate.

Conflict of interest allegations were levelled by opposition parties against Premier Prentice in 2014, for staging political announcements in ridings with upcoming by-elections, and again in 2015 when Premier Notley attended a political fundraising dinner in Toronto. In . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Modern Courts and the Need for Judicial Technological Competence

It is now relatively uncontroversial that lawyers should be technologically competent. A duty of technological competence has been included in the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct since 2012 and has subsequently been adopted in 36 states. Here, in Canada, a similar duty is under active consideration by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada for inclusion in their Model Code.

Much less has been said and done in relation to judicial technological competence; it’s time for this to change.

To be sure, the proposition that judges need to understand technology is not an entirely new . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Tort Litigation and Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Changing the Climate of Opinion

Climate change is probably the single greatest threat to the security and prosperity of Canadians, as well as the rest of the human race. The most effective, least painful way to mitigate climate change is to impose a price on greenhouse gases worldwide, either through carbon taxes or tradable emission permits. However, carbon pricing is as politically difficult as it is economically efficient. In most countries, voters and political leaders have so far refused to support prices high enough to keep the risk of catastrophic climate change within an acceptable band. In Canada, there is also real risk that the . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

A Tale of Two Attorneys-General: Jody Wilson-Raybould and Caroline Mulroney

Twice in the last six months, Canadian Attorneys-General have been encouraged to resist the first ministers of their respective governments. Today, federal AG Jody Wilson-Raybould is widely commended for resisting repeated requests from the PM’s office to change tack on the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin (See Patricia Hughes’ comprehensive Slaw post on the affair).

In September of 2018, Ontario AG Caroline Mulroney was called upon to vote against, or resign from, Premier Doug Ford’s government after Ford proposed to invoke section 33 of the Charter. The Superior Court of Justice had found Ford’s plan to reduce the size of Toronto . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics

Against Supreme Lawyering

Retired Supreme Court of Canada judges can and do practice law in Canada. Law societies’ rules allow this, subject to certain restrictions on court appearances. In this column, I argue that these rules should be changed: law societies should not license retired Supreme Court of Canada judges to practice law in any manner or form.

First, a few important points of context.

The focus here is exclusively on retired SCC judges. There are currently active policy discussions about reforming law society rules that apply to retired judges from all levels of court who wish to return to legal practice (see, . . . [more]

Posted in: Legal Ethics