The Advisory: Volume 8, Issue 4, October 2010

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Ethically Speaking

Alberta a Leader in Drafting a Model Code

By Ross McLeod, QC, Practice Advisor, Law Society of Alberta

MANY LAWYERS have, by now, heard something about a new Code of Professional Conduct. In the Lawyers Weekly of December 25, 2009 Law Society of Alberta President, Rod Jerke QC, discussed the proposed Federation of Law Societies of Canada Model Code in a feature interview. Significant strides have been made since then and Alberta lawyers can expect to welcome an updated Code early next year. What can lawyers expect?

Firstly, why are we doing this? Wasn’t the Alberta Code of Professional Conduct in itself an elegant, well-written model? The privileges now enjoyed under the National Mobility Agreement, allowing lawyers to practise in every Canadian jurisdiction, naturally lead to the conclusion that national ethical standards are necessary. Alberta lawyers don’t want to risk disbarment for doing something in Saskatchewan that would not be offside here. In her July 9 article in the Lawyers Weekly, University of Calgary Professor Alice Woolley, commented on the Model Code:

The creation of a uniform code of professional conduct governing all Canadian lawyers is a good thing. The Canadian profession is increasingly mobile; national law firms play a prominent role in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec; and regional law firms are significant across the country. Regulation of the legal profession must be sophisticated and appropriate, and should avoid parochialism. All of these factors favour the creation of national standards governing lawyer conduct.

Our new Code will look a little different but, in substance, will contain no surprises. The previous 14 chapters in the Alberta Code of Professional Conduct are condensed into 6 logical divisions. Even a lot of the wording will look very familiar to Alberta lawyers. That’s because Alberta has been a leader in drafting and revising the Model Code. Several former Benchers were influential members of the national committee which produced the first draft in April 2007. Law Society of Alberta Past President Mona Duckett QC chaired a national editing review committee in 2008. Over the past few months, members of the Professional Responsibility Committee have been participating in weekly conference calls aimed at making the new Code thoroughly consistent with Alberta law and practice.

The Committee is striving to make sure the Alberta version provides clear, concise, meaningful guidance for lawyers on ethical questions. In tone, the new Code may sound less aspirational about how good lawyers should behave and more regulatory: direction about what good lawyers should do. “Directive, not exhortative” as Prof. Woolley says. She also argues for a Code that does not impose standards higher than the law and current practice demand – an objective the Committee members have tried to keep in view.

The Benchers know that the profession will be reacting to the new Rules of Court this year, but the new Code should hold no stress for them when it is implemented next spring. Lawyers ought to find it accessible, sensible and useful. Still, lawyers can look forward to opportunities to be introduced to the Code in seminars, online materials and even in-office presentations. For more information, call the Practice Advisors, Ross McLeod and Nancy Carruthers at the numbers on the last page.

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