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    August 4th, 2007

    Much has been said in regards to the Maclean’s cover story and interview with ex-Bay street lawyer and ex-law school Dean Philip Slayton (Aug. 6, 2007) regarding his book entitled: Lawyers Gone Bad: Money, Sex and Madness in Canada’s Legal Profession. I won’t repeat the comments made elsewhere by others, including the President of the Canadian Bar Association, J. Parker MacCarthy Q.C. (which I share and endorse). My concern centers on one particular question and answer posed to Mr. Slayton and his answer thereto:

    Q. How has the legal profession changed in Canada over the past few decades?

    A: In very general terms, it has become a business: interested in profit, not interested in making judgments, not interested in providing access to poor people or even middle-income people. The old ideas – that lawyers have something to do with justice and fairness, and are part of an important system that provides a stable, safe, law-abiding society – have to the extent that you can generalize, been lost by members of the legal profession.”

    This is a very telling statement. As someone who is Editor-in-Chief of Law Practice Magazine and who has dedicated his learning, practice and life to the study and practice of how to improve the legal profession and the provision of legal services by adopting sound business principles to the practice of law, I find this statement by Mr. Slayton to be particularly troubling. By implication, according to the logic of Mr. Slayton, are graduates of every business school – everyone who holds a B. Comm or MBA – equally tarred and feathered by this statement – i.e. people who are simply interested in profit? And perhaps Mr. Slayton would tell us – when *exactly* did earning a profit in the provision of professional services – whether they be legal, accounting, architectural or engineering – become wrong? Are not all of these professionals rendering a service to their clients in a manner that allows them to raise their families, pay their mortgages, contribute to the taxes paid in society and perhaps even take a well-earned vacation every so often (I say this since lawyers – particularly those in smaller and solo practices – find it very difficult to take vacations, as finding someone to tend to their practices and their ever-present client needs, is not easy).

    Mr. Slayton implies that lawyers have abandoned poor people and the middle class. As the Practice Management Advisor for The Law Society of British Columbia, I have literally handled thousands of calls from lawyers who were concerned about how to charge the Provincial Sales Tax on their legal services arising from the Christie decisions that challenged the right of the Province of British Columbia to levy taxes on legal services to low income clients. Thousands of calls. On files that involved legal services rendered to low-income clients or potential low-income clients. And the vast majority of these lawyers expressed concerns about the Government collecting taxes on legal services, which were intended to fund legal aid (i.e. legal services rendered to the very poorest in society) but which were diverted by the Government into general revenues and never directly applied to fund the cause for which they were intended.

    Furthermore, Mr. Slayton’s comments do a disservice to all the lawyers who render legal services in smaller communities. Or who do pro-bono work. Or who do community volunteer service. I know that lawyers work long hours, not because they are pursuing a profit, but rather because their client needs demand such hours in order to render a professional service of which they can be proud.

    I echo Parker MacCarthy’s statements and state that I too, am proud to be a lawyer.

    This entry was posted on Saturday, August 4th, 2007 at 1:27 am and is filed under Issues facing Law Firms, Trends. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

    3 Responses to “Maclean’s “Lawyers Are Rats”…”
    1. pete smith Says:

      Hear, hear! Huzzah!

      Great post. I appreciate very much your comments about the respectability, reasonableness, necessity and down-right wholesomeness of providing legal services for profit. To my mind, people who make the kinds of knee-jerk comments benoaning anyone working towards the profit-motive betray a fundamental mistrust of free markets, of capitalism, and, frankly, of democracy. As you point out briefly, markets require that services become more and more honed to the needs of those served. Individuals and entities at all levels demand and receive increased quality in legal and other services by virtue of those forces. Those who believe otherwise seem to me observationally challenged.

      At any rate, as you do not hesitate to point out, there are legion attorneys working for all classes of society. Indeed, the majority of lawyers (although fewer as a percentage all the time) represent “mid-market”, “small businesses” and just plain regular folks. This is to say nothing of those legion attorneys that work tirelessly for the poor, underprivileged and otherwise challenged in our society.

      At any rate, thanks again for making such a plain and needed response to Slayton’s book.

      Best regards and all that . . . I look forward to reading many more such thoughtful posts.

      pete

    2. pete smith Says:

      Great post! It is so refreshing for someone to stand up and point out that the emperor has no clothes. It is dismaying to hear people pontificate about the horrors of the profit motive, when that motive has far more to it than simple avarice.

      Indeed, the profit motive is simply another way of describing economic essentials that have everything to do with efficiency, good use of resources, excellence, and yes, justice. It is the nearly-unfettered profit motive and the relatively modern credit and insurance technologies that serve it (in other words, capitalism), that have brought more prosperity and a higher quality of life for more people than ever before.

      Quite frankly, those who expound on this knee-jerk anti-capitalist mantra are observationally-challenged. It is intolerable that someone in Slayton’s position could reiterate such a blithe and thoughtless rubric.

      Of course, this is not even to mention the amazing work that lots of otherwise “profit-seeking” attorneys do for absolutely no compensation for the poor, the working class, and the downtrodden. And furthermore, what attorney worth his salt has not cast copious loaves of bread upon the water giving advice to clients (big and small, usually small) from which he will never receive compensation?

      Thanks again for your post. I look forward with keen interest to following your blog as it develops.

      Pete

    3. Ivan Says:

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