I picked up this week’s MacLean’s Magazine and read Kate Lunau’s article entitled “Law Societies Under Fire”. This is the 4th article of a 5-part series on the problems within our legal system. The argument that lawyers should not be regulating themselves is not new. In fact, MacLean’s Magazine previously published a controversial article under the heading “Lawyers Are Rats” which had to deal with Philip Slatyon’s new book. Philip was a former Bay Street lawer and author of Lawyers Gone Bad: Money, Sex and Madness in Canada’s Legal Profession.
Indeed, the argument that self-regulation doesn’t work has just been evolving over time as new horror stories emerge. Also, there have been new calls to action based on what we’ve been observing overseas in England. With respect to the latter, as Kate Lunau mentions in her article, people who wish to complain against lawyers “will soon be able to go directly to the independence Office for Legal Complains (OLC)”, which is a separate body from the law society or bar council.
While I wouldn’t call myself an expert on the issue of whether lawyers or other professionals should be self-regulated, I would like to offer some observations to the issues that arise. From a starting point, someone has to govern. Someone has to be accountable to the public and to lawyers to deal with disputes that arise. That someone should be neutral, unbiased, independent, etc. The fact that that “someone” is also a lawyer should not automatically disqualify them. Their background, experience, skills, and knowledge should be examined to determine if they are competent, properly motivate, and have enough time to devote to the cause. That’s pretty much my selection process when it comes to anything. Lawyers are professionals who are held to high ethical and professional standards in their daily dealings with clients, the media, courts, other lawyers, etc. Among other things, they are called upon to be honest, maintain confidentiality, and avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest.
So, in my humble opinion, I’d like to see some data to support the argument that self-regulation isn’t meeting the public’s needs, wants, and expectations. A few anecdotal examples just won’t cut it for me; before we embark on massive reforms, we should make sure that the system is broken enough to warrant the time, energy, and money spent.