The Advisory: Volume 10, Issue 2, April 2012
Federation of Law Societies Promotes Cause of Justice
By Mona Duckett, QC, Bencher Representative to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada
Of the fees you pay to the Law Society of Alberta every year, $60 is sent on to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC). You’ve probably had little or no contact with the FLSC, so let me take this opportunity to tell you what you’re paying for.
The FLSC is the coordinating body of the 14 law societies in Canada. It is a voluntary organization, with no statutory foundation and has only the powers vested upon it by the consensus of its members. Those members are the regulators of Canada’s 103,000 lawyers and Quebec’s 4000 notaries. The Federation, like law societies, is mandated to act in the public interest.
Although the Federation has existed in some form since 1927, its structure, role and governance have changed significantly in the last 10 years. A 14-member Council (one representative of each law society) and a small executive meet regularly, in person and electronically, in pursuit of the Federation’s goal of strengthening the governance of the independent legal profession. Just as law societies, the FLSC is neither the voice of nor an advocate for lawyers; the Canadian Bar Association and other lawyers’ associations serve that purpose in Canada.
Mission to Enhance Transparent and Effective Governance
The mission of the FLSC includes bringing its members together to enhance transparent and effective governance of the independent legal profession in Canada, as well as to promote the cause of justice and the rule of law. The Federation speaks nationally and internationally on its members’ behalf and shares Canadian law societies’ expertise to contribute to the effective regulation of the independent legal profession around the world.
The Federation is based in Ottawa with a staff of 12, six of whom are focused on the work of the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA). However much of the Federation’s work is supported by staff and volunteers from law societies across the country. Alberta staff and volunteers have been very involved in committee work and policy development at the national level as the Law Society is committed to the development of national standards that will enhance the ability of all Canadian legal regulators to govern effectively and transparently in the public interest.
Because the Federation is a voluntary organization, the national standards cannot be imposed on any law society, but it is hoped that they will be recognized as best practices which will enhance our credibility as trusted and effective regulators of the independent legal profession.
CanLII Protects Public Access to Legal Information
In 2001, the FLSC created CanLII to protect public access to legal information and the law. Every year, $35 of our annual fees go to CanLII (www.canlii.org) which has become a primary research tool for many lawyers. The other $25 of our FLSC fees supports national initiatives, policy development, advocacy for regulators, and occasional court interventions. Some of the FLSC’s national initiatives include the National Mobility Agreement signed in 2002, which has now expanded in some form to every province and territory, and the national Model Code of Conduct, which was the foundation for Alberta’s new Code. There are ongoing projects and policy development in the areas of national admissions standards, looking at competency and good character criteria and national discipline standards examining the processing of complaints. The FLSC has recently completed extensive work assessing the appropriate criteria for a Canadian common law degree and continues to work with law schools across the country to maintain those consistent and high standards.
Evaluating Qualifications of Internationally Trained Lawyers
Evaluating the qualifications of internationally trained lawyers is something the Federation does on behalf of all the Canadian law societies. The FLSC created the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) in the 1980s and since then the NCA has been assessing the legal education and professional experience of those wanting to practice in Canada who obtained their credentials outside the country or in a Canadian civil law program. From July 2010-2011, the NCA received 1096 applications from foreign trained lawyers and they issued 466 Certificates of Qualification.
The FLSC has been active in policy development and advocacy as it relates to protecting the core values of the independent bar and effective self governance. In 2001, when the federal government passed anti-money laundering legislation that purported to impose obligations on lawyers to secretly report clients to a government agency, the FLSC, the CBA and various law societies challenged that infringement of client-lawyer privilege and loyalty. That legislation was declared unconstitutional last year: FLSC v. Canada (AG), 2001 BCSC 1270. The legislation was not justifiable under s. 1 of the Charter largely because of the steps law societies had taken, with the FLSC’s leadership, to create model “no cash” and “client identification and verification” rules.
Interventions Protect Privilege
Other Supreme Court interventions over the last few years have helped to protect privilege (Minister of Public Safety v. CLA, Privacy Commissioner v. Blood Tribe) and the rule of law (Charkaoui v. Canada). The FLSC also provides administrative support to the financially self-sustaining criminal and family law CLE programs held in the summer months.
The FLSC’s strategic objectives at the present time include:
- Developing high and consistent national standards for legal regulators.
- Fostering greater public satisfaction with access to legal services in Canada.
- Effectively communicating the role of the Federation to the public, governments and members of the legal profession.
- Contributing to the improvement of regulation of the legal profession around the world.
The Law Society’s involvement with the FLSC assists us in meeting our own strategic goals. It also assists us in anticipating and responding to changes in the legal regulatory landscape caused by external influences such as labour mobility agreements and Fair Access to Regulated Professions legislation. Developments around the country and around the world are affecting the expectations of our clients, the practice of law and the regulation of the bar. A national and international outlook has proven to be necessary for regulators.
I encourage you to check out the FLSC website for more information: www.flsc.ca
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