Legal expert calls for review of law profession

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      Former dean says B.C. should reconsider whether lawyers should be self-policing.

      A former law-school dean says the legal profession has a “trade-union mentality”, which is one reason why he thinks Attorney General Mike de Jong should examine whether the profession should be allowed to regulate itself.

      Philip Slayton wrote an exposé of the legal profession published two years ago called Lawyers Gone Bad: Money, Sex and Madness in Canada’s Legal Profession (Viking Canada). Slayton told the Georgia Straight in a recent phone interview that after the book went on sale, he received thousands of e-mails and phone calls from Canadians with “stories of woe about lawyers”. He added that he still receives two or three messages a day, and many of these people complain that they were stonewalled or ignored by provincial law societies.

      “Now, some of these people may be nuts, but they’re not all nuts,” said Slayton, a former law professor at McGill University and ex–dean of law at the University of Western Ontario. “There is a lot of people out there who are very unhappy—who feel in many cases they’ve been aggrieved.”

      Slayton’s suggestion that de Jong look at the legal profession’s self-regulating status drew a sharp rebuke from Gordon Turriff, president of the Law Society of B.C. In a phone interview with the Straight, Turriff said that Slayton is from Eastern Canada and has no understanding of what’s occurring in this province.

      “What he doesn’t seem to understand is that it’s necessary to have lawyers governing themselves, because if they’re not governing themselves, somebody else will be,” Turriff said. “And that somebody else could be the government. We can’t have the government deciding who the lawyers are going to be or deciding what people lawyers are going to have for clients or deciding what sorts of arguments lawyers are allowed to make because lawyers are the thing that stands between the people and the state.”

      Slayton, however, said de Jong should borrow a page from the Tony Blair government, which appointed a nonlawyer, banker David Clementi, to review the regulation of the legal profession in England and Wales in 2003. Clementi recommended that lawyers be regulated by a new Legal Services Board consisting of a majority of nonlawyers and chaired by a nonlawyer. Clementi called for other reforms, such as allowing companies outside of the legal profession to own legal practices.

      A new Legal Services Board has since been created in England and Wales, which is independent of government and the legal profession. Last month, it announced that it will open the market up to “alternative business structures” by 2011.

      Slayton, a columnist with Canadian Lawyer magazine, said the province should appoint “some wise man who is not a lawyer” to hear the public’s view on this issue. He added that this person should not prejudge the issue.

      “My own view, which I’ve expressed on many occasions, is that the legal profession should not regulate and discipline itself for two reasons,” he said. “The first reason is that if you look at how they’ve done that job over time, they haven’t done it well. They have just not been good at it. But the second and more profound reason, I think, is generally speaking, we don’t let people who need to be regulated regulate themselves—because there is an obvious conflict of interest involved.”

      Turriff said that the legal regulatory systems in use in England and Australia are unacceptable. “They interfere with the independence of lawyers and we can’t have any interference with the independence of lawyers because it leads to a diminution of rule of law,” he said. “And we have to have the rule of law or we’re going to end up like Zimbabwe or some of the other countries where we have arbitrary exercise of power. That would be intolerable.”

      Shawn Robins, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s ministry, told the Straight by phone that de Jong, a lawyer, had just settled into his job, and would not be available to comment on whether or not the law society should continue to regulate the legal profession. NDP attorney-general critic Leonard Krog, also a lawyer, told the Straight by phone that he’s conscious of the fact that members of his profession make a lot of money. However, he also pointed out that lawyers are the “protectors of justice”. He added that in most dictatorships where there is suppression of free speech and public dissent, lawyers are often locked up in prison.

      As for Slayton’s suggestion to examine the law society’s self-regulating powers, Krog responded, “It may be a question—if it ain’t busted, don’t fix it. It strikes me that if there is any profession in the community that’s not perhaps investigated—certainly in the public eye—it’s physicians. There is more complaints about physicians, I suspect, than there are about lawyers.”

      Krog quickly added that he believes an attorney general has a responsibility, however, to look at every issue that’s raised, and then determine if there’s a problem.

      Under the Legal Profession Act, the law society is required to protect the public interest. The society’s directors are called benchers; 25 are lawyers elected by members of the legal profession, and six are nonlawyers appointed by the B.C. government.

      The law society’s most recent annual report stated that there were 1,410 complaints in 2007, of which 11.8 percent were referred to the discipline committee. The law society issued 37 citations to lawyers to appear at disciplinary hearings. There were eight disbarments, eight suspensions, and 10 fines.



      Chris Budgell

      Jun 20, 2009 at 3:14pm

      I would guess that a high proportion of the emails Philip Slayton has received have come from B.C. I have emailed him myself and I've also filed a complaint with the B.C. Law Society - some years ago. The response was bizarre - that the lawyer in question had no obligations to me whatsoever.

      Law Society President Gordon Turriff has recently heard from me - in person. He already knows that the writing is on the wall. It is interesting to see his public reaction. Contrary to what he claims, lawyers do not serve the public interest or stand between the citizen and the coercive power of the state. The state has long been run by lawyers.

      This is going to change despite the determination of the legal establishment to retain its power and privilege.


      Jun 24, 2009 at 11:32am

      The comment above is a good example of the one sided, self-interested parties that often complain about lawyers' self-regulation. Lawyers pay for their own regulating body, and are bound by it's rules, which are much more ethically stringent than any government body could be. Many of the complaints made about lawyers are without merit, but when they do have merit, Law Societies have done more to resolve issues than any other regulatory body I have heard of. For example, the BC Law Society has paid the money lost by victims of Martin Wirick's fraud. KLawyers are not running the state, they are here to protect those who live within it.

      Chris Budgell

      Jun 24, 2009 at 3:49pm

      Actually, I'd much prefer to see the Law Society lose its statutory monopoly, which is a rather different solution from what Mr. Slayton is proposing. Since the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that there is no inherent right to "counsel" - by which it means Law Society members - then I say the monopoly is unconstitutional.

      I am currently in litigation and the adverse party is the most powerful law firm in B.C.: the Ministry of Attorney General. I have faced them twice already in court with the inevitable result that I was denied any process whatsoever. They're already having a much harder time in round three. The reason that no lawyer in B.C. would consider working with me on this case is that it would severely impact their career prospects.

      If they are entitled to deny me representation, and in fact any assistance at all, then I should not be prevented from seeking assistance elsewhere. Even if the Law Society was providing good oversight of its members' conduct (which it isn't), that's of no comfort to the many people who are compelled to be their own lawyers.

      jake d

      Mar 17, 2010 at 5:05pm

      The Law Society is very up front that they will do nothing about a member committing a crime. While they brag about how many complaints are thrown out, they do nothing about criminal activity. If they do 'investigate' the result is an insult to the public. Instead of charging them with a crime, the lawyer is only given a letter of reprimand, essentially telling him to be more careful and don't get caught again.

      Most lawyers commit fraud, which is a crime, and is considered conduct expected of a lawyer by the Society. Time is money, wasting time is fraud. Defrauding clients is how they make their money, wasting many hours doing research for a trial they will never attend and have no intention of attending.

      James Bishop

      Apr 1, 2011 at 6:05am

      For almost six years I have been trying to understand why I have not been able to advance my case, but after reading about Mr. Budgell's problems, and others like him, I think I now know why.

      Many in the judiciary have an extreme bias towards self-represented litigants, which makes it impossible for such litigants to obtain due process. When a judge won't read my affidavits or factums, or consider my evidence, he is violating my basic right to a fair and just hearing. In my opinion, and for that reason, that judge is is not only biased he is dishonest and should not be sitting on the bench.

      It is apparent that justice is unattainable for those who cannot afford legal representation and who do not qualify for legal aid. This is obviously not right, seems to be systemic, but will never change if the problem is not made public.

      We need to form some sort of coalition of concerned citizens to fight this abuse, rather than acting independently of one another.

      I am in Ontario, and the judiciary here display the same bias as Mr. Budgell found in BC.

      Mom's Story, http//
      The Vexatios Litigant, http//

      richard G

      Jul 20, 2012 at 2:00pm

      Lawyers are the problem with the justice system. Attorney generals are previous lawyers, previous judges. All have conflicts. I'll use my case as an example. A lawyer against me, as i am self-represented, manipulates the laws and acts to her benefit. Law society complaint response: Get us more proof. Hmm. now if they are the regulatory body, why aren't they regulating? To ask me to provide more evidence of how crooked lawyers are is like saying why don't the police police themselves? Corruption in Canada's legal system is the problem and i would have to say it is in all levels.Now take into account conflicts of relations. Judges related to officers related to crown attorneys related to private legal practioners related to public officials related to director of non-governement agencies. None of their family members ever suffer the injustice that a person who isnt related does. Favortism is a huge problem. Maybe we need a computer to rule the laws and ensure there are no exceptions. A computer will have no prejudice and won't have any alterior motives. Just a suggestion. Computers do most of everything these days why not use the power of an indiferent computer program to decide.