Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Your business model is broken law societies you're not adequately protecting the public!

Good Day Readers:

If the recent Toronto Star investigative report on the Law Society of Upper Canada is any indication, the LSUC is doing a lousy job of protecting the public from lawyers and a much better job of protecting its own. Is there any reason to believe other Societies throughout the country are any different? Probably not. It's time to fix a broken business model.

Look to England. In 2007 a major study was completed recommending The Legal Services Act be passed from which emerged the centralized Solicitors Regulation Authority responsible for investigating and disciplining over 125,000 lawyers in more than 11,000 law firms throughout the country. While not perfect, unlike the LSUC at least it separates the representative from the disciplinary function of law societies and the obvious conflict of interest that goes with it.

Would the horror stories documented in the Toronto Star's investigation have happened had the Law Society of Upper Canada not had disciplinary authority over its lawyers? Again, probably not. In short, take the investigative and disciplinary responsibility away from law societies and give it to a government controlled agency.

Now if taxpayers could only get the Canadian Judicial Council responsible for disciplining federally appointed judges to clean up its act. The last people you want investigating, disciplining and self-regulating themselves are lawyers, judges and the police. "Keep a very close watch on those in power." (Michael Moore)

Clare L. Pieuk
Law Society of Upper Canada urged members not to talk on crooked lawyers

Dale Brazao, News Investigations
Kenyon Wallace, News Reporter
Rachel Mendleson

Monday, May 12, 2014
Benchers, lawyers who sit in judgment of lawyers who have gone bad have their own entrance to the hallowed Osgoode Hall which houses the Law Society of Upper Canada. (Dale Brazao/Toronto Star)

The Law Society of Upper Canada attempted to muzzle members by directing them not to talk to the media in relation to a Star investigation that showed the self-governing body does not report crooked lawyers to police.

In emails sent to benchers, the name given to those who govern the law society and sit in judgment of lawyers at disciplinary hearings, the organization’s CEO Rob Lapper said, “that if you are approached, I . . . urge you not to respond to reporters.”

Roy Thomas, a spokesperson for the law society, told the Star Friday that benchers are “free to express their personal views, as they regularly do.”

“The CEO was reminding benchers that when there is a media request for a response on behalf of the law society, that our organization, like most organizations, has a protocol in place. The Treasurer is the law society’s official spokesperson,” Thomas said.

Read the complete Broken Trust investigation:
“To the extent that the Star’s questions are about the organization’s discipline processes, the organization needs to provide consistent and fully informed responses, from the organization’s official spokesperson.”
The emails sent by Lapper followed questions the Star sent to the law society regarding how the self-governing organization for some 46,000 lawyers in Ontario disciplines those who engage in suspected criminal activity.

The Star’s investigation revealed that more than 230 lawyers were sanctioned by the law society in the last decade for criminal-like acts, such as theft and fraud. The Star found these lawyers stole, defrauded or diverted more than $60 million in client money held in trust. While most were reprimanded, suspended or disbarred by the profession’s regulator, only 41 faced criminal charges. Of these, only 12 went to jail.

The law society does not, as a rule, report lawyers suspected of committing criminal acts to police, claiming that to do so could violate solicitor-client privilege. The Star found that law societies in most other provinces have policies to report lawyers suspected of criminal offences to police, the province’s minister of justice or attorney general.

The Law Society of Upper Canada’s website states the organization has a “duty to protect the public interest” and to act in a “timely, open and efficient manner.”

The emails obtained by the Star show Lapper expected the newspaper’s investigation might put the law society in a negative light. Lapper provides sample questions and answers to benchers that he says “may be helpful to you in responding to comments or concerns that you hear from colleagues and members.”

“There is a chance that one or more of the reporters working on the story will approach you. The Treasurer will continue to be the law society’s spokesperson and I would ask you not to respond to any media inquiries,” Lapper says in one email.

The Star contacted more than a dozen benchers seeking their opinions on how the law society disciplines its members. Many said they had been warned by the law society to keep their mouths shut. Only one, Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby, consented to an interview.

One bencher contacted for this story agreed to comment on the condition of anonymity, saying that in his opinion the emails were indeed intended to stop benchers from expressing theirs.

“If we can’t adequately protect the public then perhaps we should consider letting the Ontario government do it for us as has happened in England,” the bencher said.

Law society treasurer Thomas Conway, in an interview with the Star shortly after two of the emails were sent, said benchers were “free to express their personal opinions and they often do.”

“In my experience, one of the qualities that benchers do not have is fear. I can virtually guarantee that,” Conway said.

In one email Lapper sent, he told benchers they don’t have to say “no comment” if approached by a reporter.

“Even nuances of difference in our responses, or information that appears innocuous can become stories. We need to have a single, co-ordinated response,” he wrote.

“As with all media, and as the Star has interpreted similar issues for other professions lately, their focus will likely remain on scandal, conflict, tensions, ‘professionals gone bad,’ and similar perspectives,” Lapper said in another email.

That email also anticipates negative comments from the police. Several police officers the Star spoke to were critical of the law society for not contacting police when it came across criminal-like misconduct by members.

“Clearly, we are unable to direct or manage the responses of some members of the police. We continue to explain to the media that we have protocols in place for sharing information with police, that the law society is not an impediment to police investigations,” Lapper said.

In response to the Star’s investigation, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called on the province to do more to protect the public from bad lawyers.

“These revelations undermine public confidence in the system of self-regulation and raise serious questions about the need to protect the public interest,” she said Thursday.

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne has remained silent on the issue, despite repeated interview requests. 


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