Maclean's magazine has published a front page story entitled "Lawyers are Rats" including an interview by Philip Slayton (a former Dean and Bay Street lawyer) who's written a new book detailing various lawyer misdeeds. The handful of examples he cites pales in comparison to the 90,000 plus membership of the legal profession.
I think it's unfortunate that lawyers are subject to a double standard. During (and before) the Holocaust, many doctors were involved in the Third Reich's euthanization program and conducted bizarre and cruel experiments on unwilling subjects. This did not, however, result in an indictment of the medical profession as a whole - unlike lawyers who have been besmirched by individuals who have been sanctioned by the criminal justice system and by their respective law societies'.
Here's a summary of Slayton's views by a more recent editorial in Maclean's:
Mr. Slayton describes the world of Canadian law as miserable, amoral, obsessed with making money, rife with fraudulent and unethical activity, poorly regulated, and indifferent to issues of justice. In plain language, he argued that lawyers are rats, a phrase we chose as our cover line for the issue.
In my opinion, Slayton's main issue is a non issue. There are always some bad apples in any profession, and the legal profession is no exception.
It's unfortunate that Mr. Slayton has apparently misspent 4 decades of his life in.
The other element to his complaint/rant against lawyers is that there is no effective access to justice, with little or no ability by a middle class individual to retain a lawyer. This complaint has been echoed by Justice Gomery and Madam Justice McLachlin of the Supreme Court (article here):
Judge Gomery stressed that "it is not just the poor; it's the great middle class" who are representing themselves in court because they cannot afford legal fees.
"I don't think the legal profession is giving the proper attention to the problem and it's suicidal, the direction that we're going now."
His parting assessment of the administration of justice is the latest shot at a system that has been widely criticized for being inaccessible and producing a surge in litigants showing up in court without lawyers.
I think that there is definite merit to this argument. As a sole practitioner, however, there are many expenses in running an office. From Law Society Membership fees, liability insurance, rent, computer software, accounting and other overhead, it's not cheap - and the costs do get passed down to the client. After years of law school and student loans, it's not unreasonable for lawyers to expect that they will be handsomely rewarded for their efforts. Yet the majority of lawyers cannot be called 'affluent' - the answer isn't in lawyer's reducing their fees, but in addressing the adversarial nature of our legal system that encourages protracted litigation (and resulting in increased legal fees/billings).
Slayton's final complaint dwells on the self-regulation of the profession. Lawyers are officers of the court and with their Law Society(s) help constitute (with an independent judiciary) a 'bridle' on the unrestrained power of the state. To have the state provide regulation for the bar would diminish the rule of law. Self-regulation must continue.
The CBA's vehement reaction here.
Slayton respond's to the CBA here.