The power of lawyers to make a difference
by Doug F Robinson, QC
As I end my term as Branch President, my mood is more anticipatory than reflective. Many actions initiated this year have been planned as multi-year strategies, in full cooperation with incoming president Mayland McKimm and the Executive Committee. I am very pleased with the long-term priorities we’ve embarked upon, and I know Mayland will do an excellent job as President in 1999/2000.
In meetings throughout the year, whether in BC, in Ottawa, Washington or Beijing, I have often heard: how can we improve public confidence in the justice system? Many lawyers who are dedicated to professional excellence still battle public misconceptions about lawyers and the legal system. We all seek to embody the best of “professionalism”, “civility” and “collegiality”, and to have those ideals reflected in our everyday practice. The Washington State Bar has developed a good description of what we all strive for:
- A lawyer should be punctual, courteous, respectful, and honour promises and commitments.
- A lawyer should never knowingly deceive another.
- A lawyer should not engage in invidious discrimination.
- A lawyer should make reasonable efforts to schedule matters with other counsel by agreement, should be both timely and considerate in responding to other lawyers.
- A lawyer should not seek sanctions against opposing counsel for mere tactical advantage, and should not make unfounded accusations of unethical conduct.
- A lawyer should seek informal agreement on procedural and preliminary matters.
To these, I would add (from the Branch’s new Client Relations Kit developed by the Communications Committee):
- A lawyer should help clients gain realistic expectations about time, expense, legal process, billing and possible outcomes of their case.
- A lawyer should communicate to clients in plain language, take time to answer questions, and return all phone calls promptly.
And finally, some key outcomes I see our profession working on every day, best synopsized by a report on the ABA President’s Symposium on Building Public Trust and Confidence in the Justice System, which I attended in May:
- Use every opportunity to educate the public about the legal system, and push hard to create new opportunities to do so, especially in our schools.
- Bring the legal system to people, and people to the legal system: do whatever you can to make the court system more user-friendly, and to involve the community in activities like Law Day.
- Improve external communications: help the media and politicians understand what’s going on in the legal system.
- Do everything you can to provide for swift, fair and cost-effective resolution of legal conflicts and tasks.
Lawyers and judges embody the “third pillar” of our society: our health and education systems are important, but if there is any weakness in the foundation of our justice system, our society is not as strong and vibrant as it can be. Each of us as lawyers has the responsibility—and the power—to strengthen that pillar by proving worthy of public respect and confidence.
This article was published in the August 1999 issue of BarTalk. © 1999 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.