Richard S. Margetts, Q.C
We need to rethink the role of lawyers
Since the beginning of the year, I have tried in this column to focus on the struggles of the legal profession in the face of change. I've made my own opinion abundantly clear: We need to aggressively rethink the role of lawyers in delivering legal services if we are to remain a vigorous profession. Others in the profession, quite properly, have different views. It is important that the Benchers receive informed feedback from the profession on how we should deal, at a philosophical and practical level, with the challenges before us.
One of those challenges is multi-disciplinary practice. In this mailing you will find a Benchers' Bulletin Supplement on multi-disciplinary practice, setting out background to the issue and asking lawyers for their views on some fundamental questions. There has been, and will continue to be, much debate on this important issue. This is not the forum to plump for one side of the argument or the other, but to alert the profession to the substantive issues that underlie the debate. The Law Society Multi-disciplinary Task Force has proposed a possible regulatory regime and rules for multi-disciplinary practice, intended to open up the practice options for lawyers while still protecting the core values of the profession.
The questions the Benchers wish to ask lawyers are these: Do you favour or oppose permitting lawyers to engage in multi-disciplinary practice? If multi-disciplinary practice is to be permitted, what degree of lawyer control is necessary? What do you see as the major advantages/disadvantages of an MDP regime? Do the draft rules ensure that "the core values" of the legal profession are protected? Are the draft rules sufficiently comprehensible and practical so that lawyers who wish to participate in an MDP can do so? Can the rules be improved? If so, how?
Whatever the outcome of this debate, there will be significant consequences for the profession, and significantly different consequences according to the outcome. It is correct to say, as most of the commentators have observed, that the MDP issue is the most important that our profession has considered in many years.
I encourage you to read carefully the background material referred to in the Benchers' Bulletin Supplement and, in particular, four articles by Jack Giles and myself that appeared in The Advocate over the past year - my most recent in the July, 2001 issue. These outline the different perspectives on MDPs. You will also wish to review the regulatory framework for multi-disciplinary practice proposed by the MDP Task Force, including draft rules, which are posted on the Law Society website. Then I encourage you to let the Law Society know your views.
Another circular, coming your way in late August, is a full program package for the Day of Law, held in conjunction with the annual general meetings of the Law Society and the CBA. A first notice of this special event was sent to you mid-July. It has struck me for some time that the AGM, a statutorily required event, draws together lawyers through multiple teleconference locations. Yet this has been an expensive opportunity lost. In addition to the AGM business, we should take the time to update ourselves on changes in law and practice, to renew acquaintances and make new friends and, perhaps, to encourage the collegiality that many of us fear we are losing in the bustle of modern life. The 2001 Day of Law is our opportunity.
One of the topics on the agenda is the pending money laundering legislation, expected to come into force in October this year. The federal government seeks to impose on lawyers invasive requirements that undermine the fundamental duty of loyalty that we owe to each of our clients. The new legislation will impact on every one of us, from barrister to solicitor, from criminal lawyer to securities lawyer. The penalties for failure to comply are severe.
At the Day of Law, we will update you on the course of action that the Law Society of British Columbia, and other law societies across the country, have embarked upon in an effort to have the government reconsider its position. However, if the government is intent on proceeding, and pending a possible constitutional challenge, it is imperative that lawyers fully comprehend their obligations under the new law and how best to protect their clients' interests.
Also at the Day of Law, CLE will present an update on changes in the law over the past year, the CBA will present a session on practice opportunities for lawyers, with a focus on property offerings, and the Law Society will present ethical and practice dilemmas in a unique game show format.
I encourage you to attend this innovative program.
Finally, I have had the privilege and pleasure of meeting and hearing from many of you over the first half of my year as President. I hope to continue to travel about the province to attend and speak at your county and local bar meetings over the balance of my term. However, I am available to hear the concern of any lawyer individually, at your convenience. I encourage anyone who wishes to express a concern, raise an issue or just talk about the state of affairs to contact me either by phone or email. My direct line at the Society is (604) 605-5324 and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I look forward to hearing from as many of you as possible.
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I mark with sadness the recent passing of two lawyers well known to many in the profession - one of our leading criminal defence lawyers, Kenneth Young, Q.C. and the Director of Land Titles, Malcolm McAvity, a reformer dedicated to protecting our Torrens land system and bringing it online through the most progressive technologies. Our condolences go out to their families and friends and to others in our profession who have experienced loss during the year.