Skills Set # 21: Professionalism (Part 2)

 In Practice Management

In Part 1, I referred to Elements of Professionalism (Elements), and broke on the point of describing the importance of the Rules of Professional Conduct in the fostering of a professional approach in our new and more junior colleagues:

The Best List of All (continued)

  • Collegiality and Civility 5 addresses collegiality and civility.  A lawyer shall be courteous, civil, and act in good faith to the tribunal and with all persons with whom the lawyer has dealings, as does Ch. 7 in similar terms: A lawyer shall be courteous, civil, and act in good faith with all persons with whom the lawyer has dealings in the course of their practice. The commentary provides, among other things, that a lawyer shall not in the course of professional practice send correspondence or otherwise communicate to a client, another legal practitioner, or any other person in a manner that is abusive, offensive, or otherwise inconsistent with the proper tone of a professional communication from a lawyer, and shall answer with reasonable promptness all professional letters and communications from other legal practitioners that require an answer, and a lawyer shall be punctual in fulfilling all commitments.
  • Service to the Public Good 2 addresses a lawyer’s duty to uphold the standards and reputation of the legal profession and to assist in the advancement of its goals, organizations and institutions. Among other things the commentary stresses the many roles played by lawyers in the public good – sharing knowledge and experience, writing, supporting law school activities and educational pursuits, participating in legal aid and community legal services programs, providing legal services on a pro bono basis; and acting as directors, officers and members of local, provincial, national and international bar associations and their various committees and sections. When participating in community activities, lawyers should be mindful of the possible perception that the lawyer is providing legal advice and a lawyer -client relationship has been created.

Balanced Commercialism

Elements (properly in my view) rails against the perception, still much debated here and elsewhere, that law is perhaps less of a calling and more of a business.

As Elements concludes, noting the contribution of Roscoe Pound in 1953 who defined professionalism and recognized that lawyers are engaged in making both a living and a career – “the term [professionalism] refers to a group pursuing a learned art as a common calling in the spirit of public service – no less a public service because it may incidentally be a means of livelihood”. ([from Roscoe Pound, The Lawyer from Antiquity to Modern Times (St. Paul, Minn.: WestPublishing Co., 1953) p. 5.]

Elements notes that applied to the legal profession, this traditional definition focusses on the lawyer as an individual dedicated to public service, with income and status as worthy but not primary goals. This view, it suggests, “contrasts with what some lawyers and members of the public see as today’s reality, namely, lawyers’ desire to maximize income and status with little or no attention to public service”. And it goes on, noting that “while the law-as-profession vs. law-as-business dichotomy is not new, the intersection of these notions leads to another important component of professionalism, which might be called “balanced commercialism”. (Elements)

In other words, why can it not be both, rendering the debate unnecessary.

Finally, Elements closes with the following, a reference I also endorse:

Although the sense of lawyers’ professionalism is threatened … a more important issue is whether there is a threat to what the public is entitled to expect: competent legal services at a reasonable price from professionals who do not abuse their trust and who act in the public interest.[from Roger C. Cramton, “The Changing Legal Profession”, ILR Report (Spring 1990)]The answer to the challenge is professionalism as described above. As an essential element of the vocation of law, professionalism must be a part of the lawyer’s everyday work. Professionalism gains substance and utility when linked to a lawyer’s understanding of the legal profession’s role in society and when exercised in service to the public.

A note: The CBA Code of Professional Conduct, first adopted in 1920, played an integral role in the Canadian legal profession. For decades, it was the model used by Canadian law societies establishing rules to govern the ethical standards for lawyers in their jurisdictions. Canadian law societies in all common law jurisdictions have now adopted codes in substantial compliance with the Federation of Law Societies (FLSC) of Canada’s Model Code of Professional Conduct.  The 2009 CBA Code of Professional Conduct was retired in April 2019, and remains online for research purposes only.

This blog post was written by K. Scott McLean, General Counsel and Director of Practice Management.  He can be reached at (613) 369-0375 or at

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