Lawyers, Do You Know Your Ethical Duties?

Although law students, who have to pass the Bar to be able to practise the profession, study the code of ethics of law from every angle, it is sometimes relegated to oblivion once in the labour market.

However, penalties can be severe if the code of ethics is not respected: disciplinary complaint, suspension from the Bar (or even expulsion), loss of the title of lawyer (thus of employment in the field).

There are tools, as well as persons elected by the Bar — the Bâtonniers — that ensure that lawyers respect and are reminded of the codes that govern the professions, especially when there are conflicts between them or ethical breaches.

“There is a very well documented jurisdiction, but it’s often a matter of attitude and behaviour toward the profession that causes problems,” explains Pierre Gauthier, a lawyer with Cain Lamarre and former director general of the Quebec Bar. For example, being in a conflict of interest when representing someone or a specific cause. “We need to know when this is the case,” says Mr. Gauthier, who has been practising law for over 40 years.

“Lawyers also have obligations to the profession as such,” says the teacher of professional law and ethics at the École du Barreau de Montréal. In particular, he names participation in sharing of knowledge and experience with other lawyers by giving university courses to trainees or colleagues. Or participating in sound administration of justice: informing the director general of the Bar when becoming aware of a major impediment to admission of a candidate to practising the profession. “When you hear some rumours, or when you have some information about something, you have to communicate it to the Bar to avoid accommodating people in the profession that could cause a problem,” says Mr. Gauthier.

There are a number of key principles that must be respected, the lawyer explains, such as the statement that, “the lawyer must contribute to preserving the honour, dignity and reputation of the profession by maintaining a bond of public trust toward it.”

The Code of Ethics of the Quebec Bar is regularly updated, and it provides many documents to assess the ethical practices of lawyers. It is a matter of taking the time to read them, to avoid any conflict or bad practices, whose consequences may be serious, both for lawyers and for the clients they represent.

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