The Advisory: Volume 9, Issue 3, December 2011

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From the President

Managing Risk in the Public Interest

By Douglas R. Mah, QC, President, Law Society of Alberta

We live in a world that is fraught with risk. The key to preserving life and happiness is taking reasonable and prudent steps to manage the risk appropriately.

Driving in the city or on the highway can be hazardous to your health. To minimize risk, you make sure your tires are adequately inflated and your vehicle properly maintained, you observe the rules of the road and you are wary of those who don’t follow the rules. You avoid distracted driving.

Each of us wants to invest our savings to the best advantage. In order to minimize investment risk, you establish objectives for yourself, define your tolerance for risk and employ strategies that are consistent with those objectives and risk levels. You may seek professional advice in that regard. You’d probably agree with me that blowing your life savings in Las Vegas is not an effective investment strategy and likely to lead to unhappiness.

Managing risk in the public interest lies at the core of the Law Society’s regulatory mandate. The Law Society’s task is to keep the relationship between the legal profession and the public healthy and happy in Alberta. The Law Society does so by managing the risk in that relationship. The legal profession prospers when the public has trust and confidence in lawyers as professionals and derives value from the legal services provided.

To ensure professionalism and value, the Law Society prescribes standards that all lawyers must meet in the areas of admission, competence, ethics, service and continuing professional development, and in the case of lawyers in private practice, trust safety. These standards are established by the Benchers, the group of 20 elected lawyers and four appointed public representatives who are charged under the Legal Profession Act with the responsibility of regulating and governing the profession.

While most lawyers meet or exceed those standards, those who do not will encounter one or more of the Law Society’s regulatory processes. In many cases, remediation of the lawyer is possible through programs such as Practice Review, Mandatory Conduct Advisory and Assist. In the worst case, the Benchers may have no alternative but to interim suspend or even disbar a lawyer as the only effective means of protecting the public.

Moreover, there are insurance and assurance programs in place to further protect the public from the risk of lawyer error and defalcation. These programs are funded by member contributions as determined through an actuarial assessment of risk.

As individual lawyers, we can each do our part to preserve our profession’s relationship with the public by managing risk in our practices. This is done by having regard to the standards, paying attention to our work and practicing safely.

This issue of Advisory is devoted to the theme of managing risk in the public interest. I hope it provides you with insight as to how the Law Society interacts with you for this important purpose. As usual, I welcome questions or comments from Alberta lawyers on this or any Law Society related topic. I can be contacted at 780-498-8665 or

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