In case you didn’t know, lawyers regulate themselves. And, it would be disastrous to have it any other way….
Every now and then, someone complains that lawyers should not be allowed to police themselves, thinking that lawyers will “stick together”. To those people: you are dead wrong.
In Canada, each province/territory has a Law Society, which an association of lawyers, that polices, regulates, and disciplines its lawyers.
The Law Societies are intended to (first and foremost) protect the public and ensure that Canadians are served by competent lawyers. See section 3 of the Legal Profession Act.
The Law Societies are involved in establishing standards for education and competence of their lawyers. They also regulate the admission process (for someone to become a lawyer).
Also, contrary to some public belief, non-lawyers are involved in regulating the legal profession, too. Non-lawyers with the Law Societies are intended to bring a public perspective.
Some people think that the Law Societies will not punish their lawyers adequately. That, too, is dead wrong.
The Law Society will investigate complaints and discipline lawyers for their mistakes, ensuring that the public is protected.
The Law Society can (and will) impose various penalties on lawyers, including imposing a fine up to $20,000.00, placing conditions on a lawyer’s practice, and/or suspending/disbarring the lawyer.
Believe it or not, a letter from the Law Society causes fear and paralysis in any lawyer.
For your interest, certain areas of law draw more complaints than others. Family law is the area of law with the highest number of complaints against lawyers (maybe because of the high emotion involved?). On the other hand, complaints are least frequent in creditor law, criminal law, and motor vehicle cases.
The independence and self-regulation (as opposed to government regulation) of the legal profession is absolutely crucial. Here’s why:
Lawyers need to be separate from the government (because the government is sometimes involved in legal actions). If the government can punish or discipline lawyers, then lawyers cannot represent their clients fully (against the government).
Imagine this: you are charged with a criminal offence and you are pitted against the government (i.e. the police and crown prosecutors). Do you think that your lawyer would be able to sufficiently defend your case and argue all defences, knowing that the opposing side can discipline them?
Or imagine this: your property has been expropriated (taken) by the government. Do you think that your lawyer would be able to argue as aggressively, knowing that he/she could be disciplined by the opposing party? Probably not, right?
And now you know.
**The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.