Sunday August 12, 2007
Published: Sunday, August 12, 2007
CALGARY - Canada's chief justice, Beverley McLachlin, came to the defence yesterday of the country's embattled legal profession, which has been battered by accusations that lawyers are rats who lie, cheat, rip off clients and hamper the administration of justice.
I don't think name calling and exaggeration helps, Chief Justice McLachlin told reporters at a gathering of Canadian lawyers. We should recognize there are hundreds of thousands who work for relatively low salaries and lawyers have always been concerned to provide access to justice.
The grim assessment of lawyers was in a Maclean s magazine cover story, published in the Aug. 6 edition, based on an interview with lawyer Philip Slayton, author of the new book, Lawyers Gone Bad: Money, Sex and Madness in Canada s Legal Profession.
The Canadian Bar Association and numerous legal commentators have condemned the article as a disgraceful smear job, particularly the magazine cover, which screamed: Lawyers are Rats. Lawyers say that the book, and the magazine article, took isolated anecdotes about unethical lawyers and used them to tarnish the reputation of the entire profession.
Lawyers also faced criticism last week from retiring Justice John Gomery, the straight-shooting Quebec Superior Court judge who led the federal sponsorship inquiry, that the justice system is on a suicidal path that cannot be reversed unless lawyers lower their fees and governments put more money into legal aid.
It s a theme also echoed in Mr. Slayton's book. The former Bay Street lawyer and dean of law at the University of Western Ontario says lawyers are doing very little to rectify the problem that the middle class, who don't qualify for legal aid, simply can't afford to hire a lawyer.
Chief Justice McLachlin, in a speech yesterday to the Canadian Bar Association, lamented the growing problem of the justice system's inaccessibility, which has led to many litigants showing up in court without lawyers.
But talking to reporters later, she stopped short of joining a growing call for lawyers to lower their fees. The problem is a much broader one, and judges, lawyers, and governments need to come up with joint solutions, she said.
It's important to recognize that the legal profession does take its responsibility to the public seriously on the whole, she said. At the same time, it might be necessary to introduce reforms to see how we can make the system work better, to ensure the system isn't too expensive and that s a complex and long discussion it has to be held.
She also pointed out that lawyers often do free legal work.
The most recent national figures on lawyers' fees, contained in a two-year-old survey by Canadian Lawyer magazine, peg the average hourly rate for a lawyer with 10 years experience from $170 to $260.