Ontario judges now have more power to let lawyers know when they need to shape up. In September, the Law Society of Upper Canada issued new Civility Complaints Protocols designed to improve civility and professionalism among lawyers and paralegals. Among the protocols is a procedure for trial judges to request that a lawyer be sent for remedial mentoring.
This measure falls short of a disciplinary proceeding. Recommendations for mentoring are noted on the lawyer’s Law Society file, but are not made public. The lawyer involved can choose whether or not to meet in confidence with a senior member of the bar to discuss the conduct that prompted the judge’s referral. Of course, the hope is that the individual will opt in and take advantage of the opportunity to work on his or her development as an advocate. “It is intended to be remedial and helpful,” says Malcolm Heins, CEO of the Law Society. “It would be disappointing if people simply turned it down.”
Once the lawyer accepts, the Law Society will connect the person with the appropriate body, either the Advocates’ Society, the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, the Ministry of the Attorney General or the Ontario Crown Attorneys’ Association.
The optional remedial mentoring plan has so far met with mixed reviews among litigators. “There was general laughter,” says Amber Stewart, an associate at Davies Howe Partners in Toronto, about a discussion she had with other lawyers. “People thought it was fluffy.” Other litigators questioned whether the process could, indeed, remain confidential given the size of the legal community in Ontario.
Nevertheless, the idea of non-mandatory mentoring is much more welcome than formal disciplinary proceedings. “As a young lawyer, if I got a letter from the Law Society telling me I was being disciplined, I would pass out,” says Stewart. “But if I got a letter stating that I was being recommended by a judge to take part in the mentoring session, I would take part and thank my lucky stars that it wasn’t discipline.”
The Protocols were developed in consultation with the Chief Justices of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice.