On July 17, 1797, ten lawyers were present at the Wilson’s Hotel in Newark, Upper Canada, to read “An Act for the better regulating the Practice of the Law” and to form the Law Society of Upper Canada. At the time, these lawyers represented two-thirds of all the lawyers in Upper Canada.
As of April 30, 2023, the Law Society of Ontario has over 57,000 lawyer licensees and nearly 11,000 paralegal licensees. My fellow articling students and I hope to add ourselves to this count following the successful completion of our articles.
Adherence to the Rules is a requirement of all licensees in Ontario. That is reason enough to care about what they mean and their impact. Understanding those Rules and being involved in continued critical discussion of the regulation of our profession is an important piece of holding ourselves to a high ethical standard in our practice and in the administration of justice.
The legal profession has been self-regulated since its inception, but this is not to be taken for granted. In the 1968 McRuer Report, the Royal Commission looked at the merits of self-governing professions in Ontario and recognized that self-regulation is a privilege that must be justified by benefits to the public interest. One such benefit is the separation of state from the regulation of a profession that will often be tasked with defending or suing state actors.
The Law Society of Ontario must be able to justify its mandate as an appropriate and fair regulator of lawyers. There is the potential for conflicts of interest and echo chambers that must be safeguarded through institutional measures.
In addition to self-regulation, lawyers and paralegals hold positions of trust and expertise throughout our society. The nature of these varied roles means that lawyers often hold power in professional relationships with clients, other parties, students, or with more junior lawyers, that must not be abused.
To abuse the power entrusted to one as a lawyer, or to act negligently, risks not only bringing harm to the individual parties involved, but also to the larger societal sense of trust in the administration of justice. This is especially important given the well-chronicled concern of public distrust towards the legal profession.
Engaging in discussion about the Rules or diving deeper into Continued Professional Development training can also enrich one’s practice by encouraging skill sets like cross-cultural communication, client management, and critical thinking. It can also increase awareness within the profession of equity, inclusion, and diversity initiatives and best practices for increasing access to justice.
The Rules are a living document that grows with the legal profession and should be amended when necessary to adapt to societal changes. Licensees in Ontario should do their utmost to keep up to date on important discussions regarding the Rules and the regulation of our profession.
This blog post was written by Meghan Boyer, Articling Student, and K. Scott McLean, General Counsel and Director of Practice Development. Scott can be reached at (613) 369-0375 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.