The CBC broadcast a story critical of law societies, including the Law Society of Upper Canada, for what was described as a lack of transparency in the way we provide disciplinary information to the public.
Specifically, the story features an individual who called the Law Society of Upper Canada to check on the status of a lawyer prior to hiring the lawyer. The individual was advised that the lawyer was in good standing, and subsequently sent the lawyer a cheque for $25,000. Shortly afterward, the Law Society posted a public notice outlining allegations of professional misconduct against the lawyer and suspended the lawyer's licence.
The individual complains that she was not made aware of the investigation or the subsequent suspension. She is also concerned that she has lost the funds she sent to the lawyer, who did not provide her with any legal services, and is now suspended.
The Law Society's discipline process is fully transparent, when a discipline proceeding is started, this is posted on our website, and noted on the Lawyer/Paralegal Directory. The hearings are public, as is the record. A client seeking information about the status of a lawyer or paralegal can easily find out if that licensee is in discipline.
Prior to the hearing, the investigation is confidential. This is in keeping with the practices of investigative authorities generally including the police. In any investigation, there is a critical point in the gathering and analysis of evidence that must be reached before formal proceedings can be started, based on adequate evidence to support them. Until then, public disclosure of the investigation is not in keeping with common law principles that mere allegations are not sufficient to conclude there is guilt. It is important to note that the Law Society closes many investigations because the evidence does not support what is alleged.
The Law Society takes very seriously its responsibility to protect the public interest and to do so in an open and transparent manner. In this instance, once the Notice of Application was issued against the lawyer, all of our public regulatory action with respect to him was accessible on our website, including under our Lawyer/Paralegal Directory.
The CBC story also refers to an initiative by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to establish a common set of national standards for transparency in the provision of disciplinary information to the public. The Law Society of Upper Canada's practices are already fully compliant with the new national standards for transparency. In the specific case described by the CBC, the Notice of Application was promptly posted on the Law Society website. The lawyer's disciplinary hearing is open to the public. Following which, the Decision and Order will be posted on our website.
The individual's loss is unfortunate and her concern is understandable.
With regard to the individual's funds provided to the lawyer, the Law Society's Compensation Fund assists clients who have been the victims of a licensee's professional dishonesty. If an individual has lost money due to a lawyer or paralegal's dishonesty, the fund can reimburse the individual for all or part of the loss.