Law Society of Upper Canada

Law Society of Upper Canada

July 30, 2007 16:19 ET

Maclean's Article a Disservice to Canadians

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - July 30, 2007) - Maclean's magazine has decided to fill the yellow journalism void created by the decision of Weekly World News to cease publication. Its cover story this week is titled Lawyers are Rats. The cover features photographs of supposedly representative lawyers with captions that read "I'm dishonest" and "I take bribes". The cover promises an exclusive interview with a "top legal scholar and ex-Bay Street partner" who "exposes the corruption of his profession."

The promised expose is an interview with an author who is promoting a book that can be found in the True Crime section of your local bookstore. The book features 15 or 20 lawyers and former lawyers who were disciplined for egregious misconduct. Some were also convicted of serious criminal offences. The expose is in fact enabled by the transparent nature of the discipline process the author condemns.

Maclean's allows these few stories to stand unquestioned as representative of the legal profession, even though the author says in his book what one would hope would be obvious to any fair-minded editor of a national newsmagazine: "Only a few lawyers are dishonest. Most behave honourably, serving their clients, profession and community well. My stories of dishonest lawyers are about a handful of people in a profession that now, in Canada, has over ninety thousand members." Yet in the Maclean's article the author is dismissive of this obvious response to his unconvincing attempt to extrapolate from the misdeeds of the few: "I know lawyers are going to say, 'Come on, he's talking about 15 or 20 members of a profession that has 90,000.' But in telling these stories I'm trying to extract general ideas."

The general ideas he is trying to extract, the author goes on to say, include "the amoral nature of legal practice". The clear implication from both the Maclean's cover and the interview itself is that the reprehensible conduct of the thieves, conmen and sexual predators featured in the book is somehow typical of the legal profession, that lawyers generally are venal, duplicitous, and fraudulent. The author reinforces this implication in a follow-up interview on Maclean's website, in which he says that though he had nothing to do with the cover, he "quite liked it."

Every occupation, unfortunately, has a small percentage of members who lack integrity. The incidence of dishonest conduct on the part of lawyers is no higher and may well be lower than that of other occupations. The most distasteful aspect of the Maclean's cover story is that it treats rare occurrences as if they were the norm.

The author also says "I don't think there is a generally accepted code of conduct or a vibrant disciplinary system." Maclean's readers who are unfamiliar with the regulation of the legal profession in Canada are left with a false impression by this gratuitous assertion. All Canadian lawyers are bound by strict rules of professional conduct that require (for example) integrity, client confidentiality, and the avoidance of conflicts of interest. Lawyers can be and are disciplined if they breach those rules - as were the lawyers the author features in his book. The Law Society of Upper Canada, for example, employs approximately 150 staff members and devotes more than $28 million a year to its regulatory responsibilities - an expense borne entirely by the lawyers of Ontario.

The legal profession across Canada has effective regulatory models in place. They include public participation, and have won respect around the world. The work of law societies across Canada reinforces the legal systems Canadians depend on for access to justice and a fair and democratic society.

The legal profession has a clear incentive to root out dishonesty, both to protect the reputation of the profession and to minimize the financial levies on honest lawyers who are required by their Law Societies to contribute to funds that compensate the victims of dishonest lawyers.

It is regrettable that Maclean's has chosen to give such prominence to the views of one individual, and to do so without the benefit of even the most rudimentary research. When a publication allows the transgressions of the few to malign the reputation of the many it does a disservice not only to its readers but also to the legal profession, the rule of law and the proud traditions of justice in our country. It does no credit to Maclean's' claim to be a newsmagazine when its editors are prepared to rely on the tactics of the tabloid press in the place of real journalism. It is not the legal profession that is diminished by this.

Too often lawyers are silent in the face of unfair, misinformed criticism of the profession. It's business as usual. We've become inured to it. Why dignify this derision with a response?

It should not be business as usual. It is time to stop ignoring these insults and accepting these sneers. Instead, we will invite honest scrutiny, confident that it will reveal the essential role lawyers play in securing the rule of law and the integrity of the Canadian justice system.

Gavin MacKenzie, Treasurer, The Law Society of Upper Canada

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