The Advisory: Volume 10, Issue 1, January 2012

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From the President

"Goodbye To All That”

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

You are reading my last message to you as President of the Law Society of Alberta. As of February 2, the very capable Steve Raby, QC assumes the presidential reins. That date also marks the conclusion of my eight years as a Bencher. I take this opportunity to make some observations about lawyer regulation both at the Bencher or governance level and at the operational or staff level.

During the span I have witnessed the Law Society of Alberta’s continued evolution as a modern business organization with a commitment to its core mandate of effective lawyer regulation in the public interest. With the adoption of a strategic plan in 2010 with stated and measurable objectives, the organization is unified and focused on achieving excellence in its everyday work of regulating admissions, competence, ethics and trust safety. As part of its strategy, the Law Society of Alberta has assumed an increasing public policy role in important areas such as access to justice and the relationship between the legal profession and the public it serves.

Just as one cannot practice law in a vacuum, the Law Society of Alberta cannot regulate Alberta’s lawyers without recognizing the ever-changing circumstances both locally and abroad. We must accept the fact that the market for legal services is changing and that providing legal services is no longer the exclusive preserve of lawyers. We must also acknowledge that elsewhere public sentiment and government action have struck down independent regulation and changed the way legal services are delivered with the advent of retail law and non-lawyer equity participation in firms.

As lawyers, we believe that independent regulation supports the best quality of democracy. Independent regulation can be maintained when both public and government have full confidence in our standards and our ability to regulate ourselves. To this end, the Law Society of Alberta’s work with the Federation of Law Societies of Canada in developing national standards, such as the National Code of Conduct that was recently adopted for Alberta, is an important ingredient in the effort to sustain independence of the profession.

Much of the everyday regulation is not glamourous; rather, it is just hard work that is primarily carried out by the staff. Discipline matters that go to hearing, where the decisions of Bencher Hearing Committees are published in on-line law reports, are the most visible evidence of regulation but these matters comprise a mere fraction of the regulatory interventions between the public and lawyers. It wouldn’t make sense to prosecute each complaint without regard to merit. Rather, each year there are hundreds of interventions by Law Society of Alberta staff in the form of dispute resolutions and mediations that resolve complaints without engaging the formal conduct process. Practice reviews and mandatory conduct advisories also often address lawyer conduct without the necessity of formal discipline. These activities are not as visible to the public, but if one were to ask, they are surely there and are efficient and effective means of regulating the profession.

Being a Bencher has been a rich and diverse experience of personal learning and growth for me. Regulation and policy-making are complex businesses that require the skill and drive of a lot of people. It has been my privilege to work the last 8 years with several generations of dedicated and thoughtful Benchers who represent the best of our profession. I am also truly indebted to a talented and hardworking staff at the Law Society of Alberta for unwavering effort and support in all things.

I wish Mr. Raby and the latest group of Benchers great success with the challenges of the coming year and, finally, I thank you, the members of the Law Society of Alberta, each and every one of you, for the opportunity to have served.

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