UAlberta Law Welcomes Canadian Association For Legal Ethics Annual Conference

    Academics, lawyers, and regulators gather in Edmonton to discuss legal ethics and regulation.

    By Law Communications on November 4, 2016

    What do professional ethics in family law, Charter protections for professional values, and the Canadian Judicial Council’s complaints process have in common? If you said that all three topics were items on the agenda at the Canadian Association for Legal Ethics (CALE) annual meeting, you would be right.

    Academics and lawyers from across the country joined provincial and territorial regulators and representatives from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law on October 28-29 to discuss and debate lawyers’ ethics and regulation in Canada. The conference – organized by Professor John Law, an early CALE member and the Thomas W Lawlor QC Professor of Law and Ethics at the Faculty – examined these issues from the perspective of teaching, research, and regulation. Financial support for the conference and annual meeting was generously provided by the Law Society of Alberta, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, and Field LLP, a prominent western and northern regional law firm.

    “The annual conference is a tremendous opportunity for CALE members to come together to discuss developments in professional regulation and to explore current issues in lawyers’ ethics,” said Professor Law. “It has facilitated the development of a small but strong cadre of legal academics whose primary research focus is in the regulation and ethics of lawyers.”

    Dean Paul Paton provided welcome remarks to the conference on Friday morning before panel discussions and presentations began. Two UAlberta Law faculty members participated in the proceedings: Professor Annalise Acorn on a panel with colleagues from the universities of Calgary, Ottawa, and New Brunswick, examining what works and what doesn’t when teaching ethics and professional responsibility to law students; and Assistant Professor Anna Lund, presenting research on the intersection of insolvency law and discipline proceedings.

    During the first session on teaching, participants discussed the use of role playing in the teaching of legal ethics, compulsory ethics courses, flipped classroom instruction, and teaching legal ethics in an intensive format. Research sessions included reports on ongoing projects such as language rights provisions in lawyers’ ethics codes, the emergence of legal apps, and the continuing challenge of access to justice for all.

    The regulatory sessions included an update on the Professional Responsibility Service established by Justice Canada, a service which provides advice, information, and training to federal government lawyers across Canada; discussions around the ethical issues raised post-judicial return to private practice; and an examination of the Law Society of Upper Canada’s recent report on systemic racism in the profession. That report, which highlighted the barriers to the legal profession faced by some students from racialized communities, also recommended the need for changes in the regulation of lawyers’ codes of conduct vis a vis discrimination, and for additional education and cross-cultural training.

    Entity regulation and compliance-based regulation – subjects that law societies across Canada have been examining, in varying degrees, for years – was another topic for discussion at the conference. Nova Scotia, for example, began regulating law firms in 2005 and is currently looking to implement a pilot program on compliance-based regulation. The Prairie Law Societies (Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) are also exploring entity-based regulation and compliance regulatory schemes. In this respect, they have been consulting with their members on a report entitled “Innovating Regulation.” Ontario is looking at similar regulatory changes.

    Entity regulation refers to the regulation of law firms in addition to individual lawyers. Under a compliance-based scheme of regulation – as opposed to the reactive system currently in place in many jurisdictions – law societies would set general ethics and practice standards to guide lawyers and law firms in putting in place appropriate management structures and practice processes to ensure competent and ethical delivery of legal services. Such an approach to regulation may entail lawyer and firm self-assessment, reporting, and perhaps compliance audits.

    After a full day of conference sessions, participants headed to the Mayfair Golf and Country Club on Friday evening for a reception and dinner, where they were joined by special guest Justice Russell Brown of the Supreme Court of Canada. Justice Brown, a former UAlberta Law faculty member, delivered an address entitled “The Moral and Ethical Aspects of a Lawyer’s Character.”

    The conference reconvened on Saturday morning for a further session on regulation, ending in the early afternoon following CALE’s annual meeting. Next year’s conference is being held in Halifax at the Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University.

    Did you know?

    The University of Alberta Faculty of Law was one of the first faculties in Canada to recognize the importance of teaching professional responsibility to law students. The Faculty began offering professional responsibility as an optional course in 1975, years before it left the fringes of Canadian legal education and moved into the mainstream. The Federation of Law Societies of Canada now requires a course in professional responsibility as part of any accredited common law program in the country.