The Advisory: Volume 8, Issue 3, June 2010

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From the President

Protection of the Public

By Rod Jerke, QC, President, Law Society of Alberta

Earlier this spring, the media spotlight on the Bank of Montreal’s allegations of mortgage fraud suit brought to the public eye the regulatory role of the Law Society of Alberta.

Both provincial and national media questioned the work of the Law Society of Alberta, and its efforts to fight mortgage fraud. The Law Society takes any complaints of mortgage fraud very seriously.

The Law Society understands that with respect to the Bank of Montreal, the claims or allegations about lawyers are around negligence. The Bank is not alleging fraud on the part of lawyers, but is alleging that lawyers involved failed to perform at an adequate level. It appears that the allegations are being made for matters which occurred two or three years ago when Alberta was in the midst of an economic crisis.

At the Law Society, we know that the vast majority of lawyers practise competently and ethically. Most lawyers do a good job. (In fact, a new Ipsos Reid poll shows that most Albertans are satisfied with their lawyers, and I will be writing about this later in my column.) It is only a very few who require the full force of our review, investigation, and disciplinary processes.

Lawyers are accountable, including for negligence. It is in the public interest and we take appropriate and effective correction action to ensure lawyers meet competency standards, including support for lawyers by our Practice Advisors and educational resources, leadership through our Continuing Professional Development program, and remediation in our Practice Review processes. In some cases, lawyers are disciplined for incompetence.

But most importantly, we ensure that every practising lawyer in Alberta has professional liability insurance to ensure the public is protected, if a lawyer is found civilly liable for negligence.

The Law Society works hard to ensure the public confidence and trust in our regulatory work is earned and honoured.

The Law Society’s Enforcement Record:

The Law Society has a history of successfully investigating and prosecuting misconduct by lawyers.

As part of our vision to be recognized as a model for protecting the public interest, we take all allegations of misconduct seriously; where there is evidence of misconduct we conduct full reviews, and, where appropriate, investigations. This includes complaints on mortgage fraud which we take very seriously. More complex allegations generally take more time to conclude.

The public interest requires our processes to be fair, so all complaints submitted to the Law Society are confidential. Until a lawyer is cited for misconduct, our review process is confidential. Once a lawyer is cited, those citations then become public.

Where a Hearing Committee finds a lawyer has been involved in fraud, the lawyer is disbarred.

In every case where the Hearing Committee has reasonable grounds to believe a criminal office has been committed, the matter is referred to the Attorney General.

Our processes are entirely public: we provide public notice in advance once citations are determined; we have public participation through public representatives on hearing committees; hearings are held in public; and we publish notices and hearing reports in a timely manner.

Ipsos Reid Poll: Albertans Satisfied with Lawyers

A new Ipsos Reid poll shows that most Albertans are satisfied with services provided by a lawyer.

The results show that the public recognizes that lawyers play an important role in providing high quality legal services. The poll findings show that the public is generally satisfied with the services and value they receive.

Benchmark measures and indicators gathered will be used to support the ongoing work of the Law Society. The Law Society is currently engaged in research on the delivery of legal services in Alberta. There is a relationship between the delivery of legal services, and the regulation and governance of the profession by the Law Society.

The general consumer survey, which was conducted as part of phase two of the Alternate Delivery of Legal Services Project, shows that most (78%) Albertans are satisfied with the services provided by their lawyer. Just over one half (53%) say they are ‘very satisfied’ with the services provided by their lawyer with another quarter (25%) describing themselves as being ‘somewhat satisfied’. Just one in 10 say they were not ‘satisfied’ overall with the service provided by their lawyer.

The survey findings provide valuable insight on the reputation of the legal profession, and the high levels of satisfaction experienced by consumers of legal services. The Law Society recognizes there are concerns among consumers about the availability of legal services to low income Albertans, and the perception of the cost of legal services.

The mission of the Law Society of Alberta is to serve the public interest by promoting a high standard of legal services and professional conduct through the governance and regulation of an independent legal profession. The result is a legal profession with a solid reputation and recognition of the Law Society of Alberta as a model for protecting the public interest.

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