Law Society of Upper Canada – What’s in the name?

Call it what it is, instead of what it is not. Call it: Ontario Independent Regulator of Lawyers and Paralegals.

(le résumé en français suit)

The Law Society of  Upper Canada‘s name is a millstone around our necks in the battle to preserve self-regulation.  New lawyers especially, excited to gain entry into the venerable institution, need to know the name and the institutional nomenclature serve only the nostalgia of a past generation of lawyers.  For the incoming generation, this alienation of the profession from the public will damage your future and that of the profession whose values and standards we uphold.

Most members of the public do not know what the LSUC is. Those who are aware of it tend to believe its mandate is to protect lawyers’ self-interest.  The word “Society” denotes exactly that. A surprising number of LSUC members also hold that belief. The cost of dispelling that self-fulfilling myth has been considerable: not only in the money and effort spent on PR, but also in lawyers’ belief that they belong to an Old Boys Club.

The cost of renaming the LSUC is in the public interest and will, going forward, make LSUC communication more cost-effective.  It can also, in time, bring more clients to you by lifting an alienating barrier and improving our public image.

Solicitors in England and Wales clung on to the quaintness-of-history argument and lost self-regulation amid increasing public complaints of lawyer negligence and arrogance. Now the Law Society of E&W is a voluntary advocacy association, and the government replaced it with the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Prof. Paton’s article on the history of self-regulating legal professions has one clear message: those who fail to maintain the confidence of the public will lose self-regulation.  (Also see: The End of Law Societies?.  and the Globe and Mail article on the LSUC motion.)

The litmus test of the labels we have on our profession’s system of government is whether it can be explained (and justified) to a room of Grade 7 Civics pupils in 5 minutes or less. If they don’t get it then, John or Jane Q. Public will never understand the legal profession until the day they die.  Through historical happenstance, the Law Society’s English nomenclature has grown into a cipher only legal insiders really know:

  • The president is the head of the Law Society but is called the Treasurer. (Law Society Act, s. 7)
  • The Chief Executive Officer is not the president, is the only officer, and is really the general manager. (s. 8)
  • The governors are called Benchers, although those on the Bench are not qualified to sit as Benchers. (ss. 10-25, 31)
  • A meeting of the Benchers is called Convocation. (s. 1)
  • The Annual Meeting is held but has no legal effect, and no business of any consequence can be legally conducted. (s. 3)
  • The Province of Upper Canada ceased to exist in 1867, upon formal severance of the Province of Canada.  (Constitution Act, 1867, s. 6)

The historical institutions of the Law Society matter to the exercise of its mandate, but not the nomenclature.  Clinging on to the quaintness of anachronism erodes confidence in the legal profession and runs counter to the mandate of regulating the profession in the public interest.  The motion brought to the LSUC Annual Meeting of May 9, 2012, is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough.  If we have to wait another 150 years to rename our self-regulating body accurately, there will be no self-regulating body to rename.

~   ~   ~

Appelons-le comme il est, au lieu de ce qu’il n’est pas. Appelons-le: le Régulateur indépendant des avocats et des parajuristes.

Le nom du Barreau du Haut-Canada nous sert mal dans la bataille pour préserver l’auto-réglementation.

La plupart des membres du public ne sais pas ce que c’est. Ceux qui en sont conscients croient que le Barreau – surtout avec son nom anglais – a pour mandat de protéger les avocats. Le mot « Society » désigne exactement cela.   « Barreau » est meilleur, mais pas beaucoup.  Un nombre surprenant de membres du BHC mainteinnent aussi cette croyance. Le coût de dissiper ce mythe auto-réalisatrice a été considérable: non seulement de l’argent et les efforts consacrés à PR, mais aussi dans la croyance des avocats qu’ils appartiennent à un ancien club.

Le coût de renommer le Barreau est dans l’intérêt public et, à l’avenir, doit faire de la communication du BHC au public plus rentable.  Ce projet peut, enfin, améliorer notre image public et baisser une barrière contre l’embauchement des avocats.

Les procureurs en Angleterre et au Pays de Galles se sont accrochés à l’argument du nom historique.  Ils ont perdu l’auto-réglementation. Maintenant, la Law Society of England & Wales est une association de défense volontaire, et le gouvernement l’a remplacée par la Solicitors Regulation Authority.

L’article du prof. Paton sur l’histoire de l’auto-régulation des professions juridiques a un message clair: ceux qui ne parviennent pas à maintenir la confiance du public perdra l’autorégulation.  (Aussi: La fin des barreaux?)

La motion présentée à la réunion annuelle du Barreau du 9 mai 2012, est un pas dans la bonne direction, mais il ne va pas assez loin. Si nous devons attendre encore 150 ans de renommer notre organisme d’autoréglementation, il n’y aura pas organisme d’autoréglementation à renommer.

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