The Advisory: Volume 8, Issue 2, April 2010
Executive Director's Report
Examining How We Serve in the Public Interest
By Don Thompson, QC, Executive Director, Law Society of Alberta
What do we mean when we say we regulate and govern lawyers “in the public interest”? We know that the public interest is not just what is in the interest of the profession, but it might include matters that are in the interest of lawyers.
We know for sure that the public needs and deserves to have an independent lawyer to provide counsel, representation, and to be an advocate to protect rights.
To be truly independent, lawyers can’t be regulated by courts or governments. Clients need to know that the lawyer acting for them has only their interests at heart. That is part of the rule of law and is in the public interest. Seen from this perspective, the privilege of self-regulation, as some call it, is more accurately called the duty of independent regulation. And if it is our duty, it is one we are called to fulfill with excellence.
The problem is that unless the public and government know and understand that principle, independent regulation is always at risk and our democratic system is diminished. As part of our duty of independent regulation, we need to be ambassadors of this principle to the public we serve. I suggest that duty falls on us collectively as a profession and individually as its privileged members.
The Public Interest Examined in Context of Three Initiatives:
When we asked the question, what does it mean when we say that the Law Society of Alberta acts in the public interest, we received comments on wide-ranging issues, some of which inform current Law Society initiatives.
The discussion began at the Alberta Law Conference and continued through an online blog. There we examined “the public interest” in the context of three initiatives.
- New developments in the area of Access to Justice,
- Safety of Trust Property, and
- Review of the Law Society’s complaints and discipline (conduct) process.
Access to Justice:
At the February meeting, the Benchers adopted an Access to Justice Strategy Statement which will guide and re-position some existing and upcoming initiatives.
We are already doing a significant amount of access to justice work. Our support for Pro Bono Law Alberta and our policy inquiry concerning the provision of legal services by non lawyers are the two most visible examples.
The Access to Justice Committee has continued to look at the role of the Law Society in enhancing access to justice. From its report and recommendations, the Bencher-adopted strategy statement directs the Law Society to work towards increasing the availability and diversity of legal services to the Alberta public.
Safety of Trust Property:
The Benchers have approved amendments to the Rules of the Law Society to prohibit the use of trust accounts if no legal services are provided. This will make it clear that lawyer trust accounts are only to be used in conjunction with the provision of legal services. These Rules are effective April 1, 2010.
With rising threats to the security of trust funds, the approval of the Benchers is being sought to implement a new structure for the control of trust funds and a new audit system.
These changes, aimed at the public and the profession’s interest in enhancing the safety and security of trust accounts, will be significant. The Benchers will be considering and then implementing these changes in a way that ensures the profession is fully engaged.
Complaints and Discipline (Conduct):
The Benchers have also adopted a complaints and discipline (conduct) strategy statement which will guide the Law Society in reviewing, improving and enhancing its conduct process. A task force has been struck to commence this work, and details of this work are outlined.
Let me know your thoughts and comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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