December 12, 1997 Halifax Herald

Kudos for the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society

In response to a May 1996 ad for Bar Council lay member applicants, placed in these newspapers by the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society, I applied for appointment. Consequently, the Society approved my appointment at it's June 1996 annual meeting.

The Barristers' Society is organized under the province's Barristers and Solicitors Act. The Act provides the ways and means for members of the Bar to govern themselves. The prime intents of the Act is to protect the public from the misdeeds of wayward lawyers and to assure, as far as possible, that members of the Bar perform in a professional and ethical manner.

The management structure of the Barristers' Society is: Bar Council, Executive, Committees, and 13 County Bars. The following members constitute the Society's 1997/98 executive: President Thomas J. Burchell, Immediate Past President John P. Merrick, First Vice President G. Wayne Beaton, Second Vice President M. Estelle Theriault, Executive Members at Large Barry Alexander and Kay Rhodenizer. The Society's very capable staff toils under the competent direction of Executive Director Darrell Pink.

My reasons for applying for lay membership was threefold: First, and foremost is my firm belief that the presence of lay citizens on the governing body of a professional institution enhances its credibility with the general public. Second, I wanted to experience first hand the procedures the Society had in place to protect the public's interest. Third, I wanted to knowledgeably debunk the "unscrupulous" lawyer stereotype many people hold.

Shortly after Bar appointment, I was assigned seats on two committees; Race Relations and Discipline Sub-Committee A.

The Race Relations Committee advises and makes recommendations to the Society on ways and means to improve it's relations with non-white groups and on how to make the profession more open to non-white participation. The two Discipline Sub-Committees investigate allegations of misconduct lodged against practising lawyers by the public, or by fellow lawyers, or, in some cases, by the Society itself. The work and decisions of the Discipline Sub-Committees are, by law, free from interference from anyone. The work of all other Committees comes under the guidance of the Executive and Bar Council.

The existence of the Race Relations Committee is a clear indication that the Society is making a genuine effort to deal firmly with it's historic problem of being viewed by people of colour as a bastion of white male power. Although it has a long way to go to achieve a multi-colour balance among it's membership, progress is being made - more non-white faces are visible around the table.

However, the prime reason for this column is to commend the Society on the manner in which it carries out its duty to protect the public from the shenanigans of wayward lawyers. Its performance in this regard rates an A-plus. This conclusion was arrived at from 18 months of personal involvement in the work of a Discipline Sub-Committee.

During that time, I've seen members of the Society carry out their public-interest duties in a very conscientious and ethical manner. They examine in minute detail, in concert with two lay members, allegations of misconduct made against members of their profession. And, when the evidence warrants it, they agree to disperse appropriate disciplinary measures. These measures can range from a written caution to outright disbarment.

Most disputants are satisfied with the way their cases are handled, but, as in any dispute resolution activity, decisions issued don't always satisfy everyone. From time to time, complainants have been very teed off at the Society, branding its decisions unfair.

However, fairness is the guiding principle for resolution of complaints. Committee decisions are always based on evidence presented and because a lawyer's lively-hood can be adversely affected by the results, must be verifiable and solid.

Therefore, if you are considering lodging a mis-conduct complaint against your lawyer, weigh the evidence you have to support your allegation carefully before doing so. If in doubt, contact the Barristers' Society at 902-422-1491, or write to them at this address: Centennial Building, Suite 1101, 1645 Granville St., Halifax NS, B3J 1X3.

Now for the "unscrupulous" lawyer stereotype. As is the truth with most stereotypes of any stripe, this one is baseless. Sure there are unsavoury lawyers, as well as unsavoury doctors, nurses, plumbers, teachers, etc., but thankfully these miscreants constitute only a tiny minority of their professions. The vast majority of all professionals, lawyers included, have impeccable reputations and guard them jealously.

This is how one member of the Bar described peer reaction to the mis-deeds of errant lawyers: "Most lawyers are outraged by the mis-deeds of peers, because it brings disrepute on the entire profession!" As a member of a race of people who have suffered unbroken centuries of negative stereotyping, lawyers have my entire sympathy in this regard

Daniel N. Paul


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