Editorial: Tackling legal professionalism


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It started over lunch at Osgoode Hall. The “it” blossomed into a Symposium on Lifelong Learning in Professionalism hosted by the University of Toronto Faculty of Law’s Centre for the Legal Profession and organized by the Chief Justice of Ontario’s Advisory Committee on Professionalism.

The advisory committee came into existence in 2000 when then-chief justice Roy McMurtry and former LSUC treasurer Bob Armstrong “thought there was a real need to promote professional responsibility in the profession; that the pendulum of law as business had swung rather too far and there was a need to re-establish some of the values that are traditional,” Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Stephen Goudge told reporters prior to the symposium.

“The design of the committee was to promote professionalism throughout the profession and we have proceeded two ways: one to gather original material through colloquia that have been hosted by law schools around the province, and second by encouraging and being a catalyst for more teaching of professionalism both in the academy and throughout the profession.”

Goudge said the progress within the legal academy has been “absolutely wonderful. It is now a major part of the academy’s portfolio … it’s an underappreciated achievement that the legal academy has made.”
He added: “Kids are going to come out of law school with a much better grounding in professionalism than they had before.”

But Goudge noted the “rest of us need to pick up our game, so to speak, and as people move through the profession the need to constantly be thinking about professional values is something that I think needs more focus.

I think that thought is shared by a bunch of people and that really was the genesis of today
. . . to put together a symposium where we could talk about whether lifelong learning in professionalism was as important an objective as many of us think it is.”

So, what started as lunch, mushroomed into a year of planning.
“It was a natural thing to happen,” said Goudge. “In the beginning . . . the major focus was, ‘How do we get kids started when they first enter law school learning about these issues?’ So the focus was working with the academy to get more teaching done in law schools. The momentum there is spectacular; it really is.”

But here’s the rub: “You don’t stop needing to know about professionalism once you leave law school.”
Goudge is right when he says there’s “no point sensitizing them to the issues of professional responsibility just to leave them completely without assistance when the rubber hits the road and they actually start practising and . . . start hitting actual legal ethical challenges.

So, you need to have mechanisms in place to keep us all thinking about what the new issues are in legal ethics and professional responsibility, partly because the problems keep arising over the course of a career and partly because the world changes from time to time.”

Goudge added that when you talk about professionalism, the challenge is to “get that learning to those who probably need it more than others . . . that’s a neat trick and we’re going to have to find a variety of ways to do it. I’m far from having any magic solutions to this.

All I know is the challenge is there and I think the sense of possibility is there as well right now, so part of today is to start us down the road of figuring out how to do this better.”

Doing better for Goudge means a couple of things: “It clearly makes a difference for the effectiveness of the justice system. That is, if I think about what I do in my day job, I cannot do it without lawyers that exhibit professionalism in a variety of ways . . . [But] I think it goes beyond that and for me it has to do with the confidence the public has in the system, that’s really the systemic dimension of it.”
Food for thought.
­- Gretchen Drummie

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