Public Interest and Professional Interest – More on the Canadian Example

I continue to watch developments in Ontario with great interest. There paralegals are licensed and thus subject to regulation by the “Law Society.” There have been two developments recently with regard to the Law Society. One, the upcoming election by paralegals members of the five of their colleagues to join the Paralegal Standing Committee of the Law Society of Upper Canada was the subject of a very good post on Paralegal Gateway in November.  This is part of an overall effort to reform and modernize the Law Society as described in this article from marketwire.com.

The second relates to the appointment of a new Complaints Resolution Commissioner by the Law Society.  While this relates to my recent post on a disclipinary proceeding in Ontario, I am more interested in it as a follow-up to the discussion in my post and the comments to that post, “Help and Hurting Each Other,” in terms of the purpose of regulating the legal profession. The article on the appointment of the new Commissioner, also from marketwire.com, speaks entirely in terms of “public interest:”

The Complaints Resolution Commissioner plays a vital role in the Law Society’s complaints resolution process. In cases where a complaint against a lawyer or paralegal has been closed and the complainant is unsatisfied with this result, he or she can apply to the Commissioner to review the case. The Commissioner will review the file to ensure that the complaint was handled appropriately and the results were reasonable. This will often involve a face-to-face meeting with complainants, and the Commissioner also has the authority to provide alternative dispute resolution between lawyers or paralegals and their clients for issues that do not require a regulatory response.

The Law Society of Upper Canada regulates the lawyers and paralegals of Ontario in the public interest. The Law Society ensures that every individual who practises law or provides legal services in Ontario meets standards of learning, professional competence and professional conduct that are appropriate for the legal services provided.

The Law Society has a duty to protect the public interest, to maintain and advance the cause of justice and the rule of law, to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario, and to act in a timely, open and efficient manner.

That being said, as noted by William P. Statsky in his book Essentials of Paralegalism,  there are two main reasons an ocupation may want to be licensed by the government: to protect the public and to enhance the occupation’s own image.  He notes that this applies to all occupations that require knowledge and skills that most citizens do not have including electricians, brokers and nurse. He goes on to say:

A license serves as a measure of assurance (altough not a guarantee) that license holders are competent to perform their speicalized and often tenchincal servies. In addition to a desire to protect the public, an occupation may want licensing as a way enhance its self-image, credibility, a nd professionalism. The occupation often views licensing as a way to prevent less-educated and less-skilled individuals from working in the field.

As previously noted it may also help prevent the less-scrupulous individuals from working in the field.

This remains a difficult topic and many questions remain. While licensing may be the answer, might the same be accomplished through self-reguation by the profession itself? Who is in the best position to determine the criteria for regulation? And many more.

The point is that the basis for a profession to seek and/or engage in some sort of regulation of its members may be found not only in the public interest, but in the interest of the profession and each professional individual member of that profession. This is especially true if, as in Ontario, it results in a greater role for paralegals within the legal system and greater access to justice by the public.

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