Lawyers Gone Bad: Money, Sex, and Madness in Canada's Legal Profession by Philip Slayton

By Philip Slayton. Viking Canada, 294 pp, $36, hardcover

Not every lawyer is greedy and arrogant, but Philip Slayton's authoritative and entertaining book, subtitled Money, Sex, and Madness in Canada's Legal Profession, demonstrates why this stereotype resonates so strongly. Slayton, formerly a corporate lawyer and dean of law at the University of Western Ontario, provides nuanced profiles of more than a dozen sleazy Canadian lawyers, such as Winnipeg's Ingrid Chen, who hired a member of a motorcycle gang to beat up clients. But he also delivers some surprises. For instance, Slayton makes a compelling case that disbarred Vancouver lawyer Martin Wirick likely never personally profited from the largest legal fraud in Canadian history.

Slayton interviews many lawyers in the book, including Wirick, whose problems began in 1999 when he released $60,000 held in trust to developer Tarsem Singh Gill. Eventually, Wirick piled up more than $50 million in debts as trust money covered more mortgages, resulting in a bailout by the Law Society of British Columbia's special compensation fund.

Some readers might have more sympathy for Wirick than for the law society after reading Slayton's account, which highlights the inadequacy of regulation of real-estate conveyancing in B.C.

However, this iconoclastic book is so much more than a bunch of tales about legal rogues. Lawyers Gone Bad points out that law schools instruct students on "how to serve the rich, for it is only the rich who can afford lawyers", and how big firms regularly go on "billing drives". Slayton also reveals how limited liability partnerships–indicated by those dreaded capital letters LLP after a law firm's name–shift risk away from lawyers and onto clients and insurers. That's because with a limited liability partnership, the partners are usually not financially liable for a lawyer's negligence or incompetence unless they are involved with the file.

The subhead of the book mentions "madness", and Slayton backs this up by explaining why so many lawyers suffer depressive disorders, and why psychopaths are attracted to the profession–a topic rarely discussed by provincial law societies.

"There are no good arguments for the view that only lawyers can regulate lawyers, and many good arguments for the contrary position," Slayton writes.

He points out that only the government has the power to introduce changes that "put consumers at the centre of the system, making the legal system and the courts available to all". Slayton has provided a tremendous public service in highlighting the problems. Too bad the B.C. government hasn't hired him to design solutions so that our justice system can serve the public as well as it serves big downtown law firms.