Keeping an eye on the ball
by Timothy E. McGee
The Law Society of Ireland is currently engaged with its national government in what can best be described as a high-stakes negotiation over the future of the legal profession in that country. The current government, faced with a serious raft of social and economic ills, is looking to shake up the established order. The Law Society has fallen into the crosshairs, at least in part because it acts both as the advocate and the regulator of lawyers in that country. This dual role now seems likely to fall by the wayside as part of the government’s populist political agenda. But the Law Society of Ireland has also voluntarily walked away from the business of handling and resolving complaints against lawyers. This function is being surrendered to a non-lawyer based body in what appears to be a conciliatory gesture in an ongoing jurisdictional debate.
What does this mean for the regulation of lawyers in Canada? There are many important distinctions between our circumstances and those in Ireland, including the clear separation of the representative and regulatory functions. However, as a public interest regulator, it is always important to be aware of the issues faced by other similar organizations and to strive to find ways to be more effective and efficient in our core activities. We also don’t assume the public or anyone else will know how well we are doing. That is why we are proactive in communicating our standards, in sharing our results and standing by our performance.
Take, for example, the handling and resolving of complaints against lawyers. This is one of the Law Society’s core regulatory activities. We receive approximately 1,100 complaints a year. While the vast majority of these are not serious and are readily resolved, we have a set of Key Performance Measures we use to determine whether the public is satisfied with the thoroughness, timeliness and fairness of our complaints-handling process. We track those measures and post our results every year on our website. We have been meeting our targets and improving our complaints-handling performance incrementally over the past few years. Our complete Key Performance Measures results for 2011 will be included in our next annual report, which will be published in April 2012.
I believe that the public and, indeed, our members demand that complaints against lawyers be handled effectively and efficiently. We will continue to strive to do this and to share our results and to improve wherever we can. While the Law Society of Ireland may have had no choice but to surrender this function, we have no plans to do so at the Law Society of BC. We will keep our eye on the ball and continue to do our best to earn the trust and confidence of the public and those whom we regulate.