Tuesday, January 14, 2014

When self-reps become 'citizen lawyers' and lawyers become phonies!

'Citizen lawyer' extraordinaire Mr. Self-Rep

Dear Sirs:

The current issue of The Lawyers Weekly includes an article in which you are both quoted. The title is, Society keeps busy flagging phony lawyers.

I'd like to share with you my perspective as someone who has been repeatedly forced to act as his own counsel and has filed three separate complaints against Law Society of British Columbia members, the latest of which is still under review and I expect will be the subject of a judicial review petition.

In this current matter I have been assisting someone who was, we are alleging, a victim of what I characterize as "the unprincipled practice of law."

After well over a decade dealing with the legal establishment I've concluded that the law societies have no legitimate right to the monopoly granted to them by statute because they clearly do not serve the public interest.

In the magazine's article I've highlighted a few lines to which I can specifically respond. The "transgressors" are variously described as:

"People who inadvertently give advice to others from their own experience"

"Repeat offenders who continually show up in court, write demand letters and perform all sorts of legal services with the expectation of a fee"

"People who have watched too many Perry Mason episodes"


"People who have an advocate mentality"

"People who are there to grind axes"

"People who file lawsuits against the government"

"People who are very good public speakers and writers"

"People who are often incompetent"

It may be instructive to consider which of these might apply to me.


I have given advice to others based on my own experiences and will continue to do so.

I have been to court repeatedly, though to date only on my own behalf.

It is decades since I watched any Perry Mason episodes so I can't say if I watched too many.

I think it would be fair to describe me as having an advocate mentality. I see nothing wrong with that.

Many people would say I have "an axe to grind." That may be a fair comment.

Among the legal actions I have commenced, various government agencies have been respondents though only one was an actual lawsuit.

I have never tried my hand at public speaking but consider myself to be quite a good writer.

There are many tasks for which I do not have adequate competence and I try to avoid them. Legal proceedings are a notable exception. I would avoid trying to tackle them on my own if I could find trustworthy professional counsel to assist me.

I also note that at the end of the article you disagree on an interesting point - that unauthorized legal practitioners are wither hurting or helping the legal profession's reputation. I am pleased to hear you are concerned about the profession's reputation because based on the conduct I've seen one would presume not.

Sincerely,
Chris Budgell
Vancouver, British Columbia.

Dear Mr. Budgell:

Thank you for sharing your letter with CyberSmokeBlog readers.

Your experience mirrors the views of many others who've had to deal with the legal system including law societies - they're of lawyers, for lawyers and by lawyers. Any legal proceeding that lacks independent citizen oversight/overview is flawed be it lawyers judging lawyers, judges judging judges, doctors judging doctors, etc., etc., etc. The chances of a cover up are enhanced.

Philip Slayton former Bay Street corporate lawyer, law professor, law school dean and now author has called law societies flaw societies with good reason. Unlike their American and British counterparts, law societies here have tightly held on to the regulatory function for dear life. They've been called the world's most powerful trade union and for very good reason. Oh for sure, they all profess to serve the public interest but do they? Perhaps they're more self-serving.

The Federation of Law Societies of Canada website claims it's responsible for monitoring 100,000 lawyers in 10 provinces and three territories plus 4,000 Quebec notaries. Do the calculus. In any given year assume 3% of the 100,000 are the subject of a disciplinary hearing. If 50% are found guilty of misconduct that's 1,500 solicitors running around who'be been judged sloppy, incompetent or just plain devious in their lawyering.

When CSB visited the FLSC's website it couldn't find any annual statistics (unless they were very well hidden) on the number of annual "legal transgressors." Messrs. Mike Kleisinger Unauthorized Practice Counsel for the LSBC and Allan Fineblit, Chief Executive Officer to the Manitoba Law Society quoted in The Lawyers Weekly article might wish to reflect upon that. Perhaps the public's greatest danger is not from unauthorized legal practitioners and self-reps but lawyers still practicing who've got a law society record some with multiple convictions. The inconvenient truth?

Hang out at The Law Courts (especially Queen's Bench Family Division) long enough and you'll come across self-reps who should be lawyers and lawyers who shouldn't be.

You know it's bad when last February the Ontario Bar Association retained a private public relations firm to come up with a campaign to improve the image of lawyers.

Sincerely,
Clare L. Pieuk

Postscript

Got any good lawyer jokes?

mkleisinger@lsbc.ca
afineblit@lawsociety.mb.ca
comments@lawyersweekly.ca

Society keeps busy flagging phony lawyers
Recently established data base tracks unauthorized practitioners

By Geoff Kirbyson
Friday, January 17, 2014 Issue

Unauthorized legal practitioners are feeling the long arm of the law society.

Recently, the Law Society of British Columbia obtained four court orders against five separate people who were illegally practising law in the province in October.

"It keeps me busy," said Mike Kleisinger, Unauthorized Practice Counsel at the LSBC. "We have 150 inquiries a year from people asking whether (would-be lawyers) are authorized to practise or not. We have 60 files open at any time."

The range of transgressors runs from people who inadvertently give advice to others from their own experiences, to repeat offenders who continually show up in court, write demand letters and perform all sorts of legal services with the expectation of a fee.

When the law society gets a complaint, they'll contact the offender, inform them about the Legal Profession Act, tell them they're breaking in and ask them to stop. They'll often ask for a written promise that they won't do it again, too.

Upon receiving a second complaint, the law society can seek a court order preventing the offender from practising law. If that's not a sufficient deterrent and they persist, the law society would seek contempt proceedings against them, which could lead to fines and jail time.

"There are some bad apples that keep coming up again and again. If we need to seek contempt, they're not listening to us or the courts. They need the full wight of the judicial process to come down on them before they'll stop their ways," Kleisinger said.

Last April, the LSBC started an unauthorized practitioners data base of people against whom it has contempt orders. Kleisinger said it obtains about 35 written promises, 10 injunctions and a couple of contempt orders per year.

"The main object of our program is to protect the public. We started putting the orders on our website so people can go on and look somebody up to see if they're a lawyer," he said.

It also puts out press releases every few months about the various injunctions it has received to get the word out about the offenders and hopefully prevent further victims.

The offenders aren't just people who have watched too many Perry Mason episodes. Law societies also have to deal with disbarred lawyers who have already proven to be a danger to the public, as well as, people who have an advocate mentality

"They're there to grind axes. They file lawsuits against the government and banks. They could be very good public speakers and writers," he said.

Allan Fineblit, CEO of the Law Society of Manitoba, says from time to time non-lawyers will try to practise law because they see it as an opportunity to make money.

"They're often incompetent and they're not not even always cheaper than lawyers. We shut down a guy doing divorces for people and he was charging significantly more than lawyers. For uncontested divorces, his fee was between $3,000 and $5,000," he said.

A growing problem today is legal services are increasingly becoming unaffordable for many people, Fineblit said. One possible solution on the cost side is having properly-trained paralegals providing a much broader scope of work.

Fineblit said he's seeing fewer people setting up secret law practices these days but that's being offset by people practising law from a distance via the internet.

"We have 150 inquiries a year from people asking whether (would-be lawyers) are authorized to practise or not. We have 60 files open at any time." Mike Kleisinger, Law Society of British Columbia

"People are becoming more desperate because of the affordability. There is a gap. People need lawyers but can't afford them, he said.

"A person delivering legal services to somebody in Manitoba might live in Bangladesh and is doing it over the Internet. The world has changed and you can't police it the way you used to."

Fineblit said lawyers who suspect somebody is practising law illegally should contact their local law society because they have a responsibility to help protect the public.

But there's no questoin some (lawyers) call us to complain because somebody else is eating their lunch," he said.

What happens to proceedings when it's been discovered that an unauthorized legal practitioner has been involved? Fineblit said there's no magic reset button.

"Mistakes that have been made or prejudice that has happened can be hard to udo. Normally, you won't get very far in court because the court will put a stop to it," he said.

Kleisinger says unauthorized legal practitioners are hurting the reputation of actual lawyers, but he's most concerned with the impact they're having on the people they're representing.

"They're taking their money and offering poor services or no services and clogging up the court system. These things are causing tangible problems for the public," he said.

Those very things are why Fineblit thinks such practitioners are actually helping lawyers' reputations.

"When people have bad experiences with a particular person or company that they use who is unregulated, they appreciate what they get when they hire a lawyer," he said.

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