Not just a lone voice in the wilderness: Maclean's responds to the Canadian Bar Association

    TORONTO, Aug. 2 /CNW/ - This week's edition of Maclean's magazine
contains the following editorial, a response to the Canadian Bar Association's
condemnation of the magazine and its request for an apology for our August 6
cover story, Lawyers Are Rats.
    Maclean's gave the CBA a page in the magazine to respond to our cover
story, and we posted their press release condemning the magazine on our
website. Maclean's requested the CBA circulate our response to its members. So
far they have declined to do so. The subject of our interview, Philip Slayton,
has challenged the CBA to debate the issues raised by our piece, but the Bar
Association has so far declined that as well. Furthermore, the CBA has
repeatedly attempted to apply financial pressure to our parent companies,
Rogers Publishing and Rogers Communications Inc., in order to force an apology
from Maclean's.
    Ken Whyte, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Maclean's, made the following
comments: "That the CBA would refuse to debate the serious issues raised by
our piece and instead try to -- let's put the best face on this -- use its
financial muscle to purchase an apology from us rather confirms the sentiment
of our cover line."

    The following editorial appears in this week's issue (August 13th, 2007)
of Maclean's magazine:

    Last week, we published as our cover story an interview with Philip
    Slayton, an ex-Bay Street lawyer and the former dean of law at the
    University of Western Ontario, who, after 41 years of teaching and legal
    practice, has written a book accusing his profession of failing its
    cherished ideals and working to the detriment of society.

    Mr. Slayton describes the world of Canadian law as miserable, amoral,
    obsessed with making money, rife with fraudulent and unethical activity,
    poorly regulated, and indifferent to issues of justice. In plain
    language, he argued that lawyers are rats, a phrase we chose as our cover
    line for the issue.

    In all honesty, we had misgivings about the headline. Before we go to
    press, we always ask ourselves whether our cover will engage a reading
    audience. It wasn't difficult to imagine dismissive reactions to that
    particular line: "it's redundant," or "it's not news," or "at least
    they're not journalists."

    But we looked again at the interview and concluded that the line was a
    reasonable reflection of Mr. Slayton's views, and that what he has to say
    is newsworthy -- it's not every day that an intelligent, sincere, and
    accomplished individual who has given his entire working life to legal
    work and education takes the trouble to call out his profession. Even
    before the magazine had hit newsstands across Canada, the Canadian Bar
    Association issued a release condemning Maclean's for publishing the
    interview. It launched a countrywide campaign to combat the "outrageous"
    accusations in the interview, and to dismiss them as the rantings of a
    lone disaffected practitioner. The president of the Ontario Bar
    Association, evidently believing the CBA had wimped out, followed up by
    comparing us to Nazis and suggesting that lawyers are all that stands
    between civilization and tyranny.

    We have extended our Mail Bag section this week to give voice to many of
    the lawyers, legal associations, and interested readers who took
    exception to Mr. Slayton's comments. We encourage readers to give them a
    fair hearing. These are complicated and important issues, and reasonable
    people may find grounds to disagree with our interviewee.

    Meanwhile, we'd like to explain to the members of the legal community who
    wrote us why we won't be answering the CBC's call for us to apologize for
    Mr. Slayton's "distorted" remarks. The characterization of Canadian
    lawyers as amoral, obsessed with money, and indifferent to issues of
    justice is hardly new. A few years back, Roy McMurtry, then chief justice
    of the Ontario Court of Appeal, told the Law Society of Upper Canada that
    undue emphasis on the bottom line "has led in recent times to a lessening
    of recognition of the importance of the ethics and culture of public
    service." Justice Rosie Abella of the Supreme Court of Canada hit the
    same notes in a 1999 speech about a "crisis of professionalism" that
    threatens the "very legitimacy" of the legal profession. University of
    Windsor legal ethicist David Tanovich writes that over the past two
    decades legal practice has come to mean "competition, maximization of
    profit, and efficiency rather than public service and the pursuit of
    justice." In other words, lawyers have joined the rat race.

    Days before our story hit the streets, Brent Cotter, University of
    Saskatchewan dean of law and the former deputy minister of justice and
    deputy attorney general in that province, publicly lamented his
    profession's lack of concern with the fact that it had priced itself out
    of reach of average Canadians and appeared indifferent to "the consequent
    denial of access to justice for those for whom legal aid is not
    available, but who cannot afford a lawyer."

    As to Mr. Slayton's contention that the profession was failing to police
    itself adequately, we refer again to Brent Cotter who also spoke of
    "significant institutional failures of self-regulation, inadequately
    addressed by the legal profession" in Canada. He felt that these failures
    "invite criticism and investigation" and threaten the long-term viability
    of self-regulation. There is in fact a vast literature on the problems of
    lawyerly self-regulation, and none of the commentators accuse the legal
    community of being too vigilant with itself. Indeed, the problems
    Mr. Slayton cites are among the reasons parts of Britain, Australia, and
    other jurisdictions are jettisoning it.

    That leaves miserableness and 'rife with fraudulent and unethical
    activity.' We haven't found the lawyers in our ambit to be especially
    miserable, but Roy McMurtry was concerned enough about his colleagues to
    see relevance in a U.S. study that discovered higher levels of "divorce,
    depression, severe stress, suicide, alcohol abuse and drug addiction
    among lawyers." He also noted that an Ipsos-Reid survey presented to an
    annual CBA meeting found lawyers to be more dissatisfied than other

    On the last point, Mr. Slayton was referring in particular to fraudulent
    and unethical billing practices. We're not experts on this so we'll have
    to refer you to a paper on the CBA's own website by law professor Alice
    Woolley of the University of Calgary. Here's the abstract:

    "In the United States hourly billing by lawyers has been demonstrated to
    lead to both inefficiencies, where clients pay for work done to generate
    hours rather than results, and dishonesty. While the vast majority of
    Canadian legal work is billed on an hourly basis no attempt has been made
    in Canada to analyze either whether hourly billing leads to the ethical
    problems here or whether the regulatory regime governing hourly billing
    by Canadian lawyers is sufficient. This essay argues that hourly billing
    leads to inefficiency, the temptation to be dishonest and to dishonesty,
    in fact, in the Canadian professions."

    In a 2005 paper, Professor Woolley writes that the "ethical problems
    arising from hourly billing are well documented," and cites academic
    literature that describes unethical billing as a "genuine professional
    plague" and "a silent epidemic."

    Which brings us finally to the CBA's argument that we have unjustly
    smeared each and every lawyer in Canada with the shortcomings and
    transgressions of a few. We don't dispute that there are many hard-
    working and honest lawyers in Canada. It is nonetheless clear the
    problems raised by Mr. Slayton are not nearly so isolated as the CBA
    suggests; rather, they preoccupy many of the best minds in the legal
    community. What's more, the whole point of being a self-governing
    community is that member-practitioners are collectively responsible for
    the welfare of the profession. Every Canadian lawyer is implicated in the
    failures of the Canadian legal profession cited by Mr. Slayton and the
    various experts above.

    Until the CBA wrenches apologies from Roy McMurtry, from Rosie Abella,
    from Brent Cotter, from professors Tanovich and Woolley and the hundreds
    of other concerned professionals who have been quietly worrying and
    debating the same issues raised by Mr. Slayton in our magazine last week,
    we feel no need to tender our own.

    Mr. Slayton has done the Canadian legal profession a service by going
    public with his concerns. As professor Tanovich notes, one of the
    problems in assessing and policing unethical conduct among Canadian
    lawyers is "the wall of silence that forms part of the elite firm
    culture." Our interview broke through the wall. And, yes, our headline
    was tough, but one of the bright consistent threads through the
    literature on the problems of the Canadian legal profession is that legal
    professionals are more interested in maintaining a lucrative status quo
    than in confronting the need to reform. You have to shout, in such
    circumstances, to get their attention.

    About Maclean's:

    Maclean's is Canada's only national weekly current affairs magazine.
Maclean's enlightens, engages and entertains 2.9 million readers with strong
investigative reporting and exclusive stories from leading journalists in the
fields of international affairs, social issues, national politics, business
and culture. Visit

For further information:

For further information: Jacqueline Segal, (416) 764-4125,

Organization Profile


More on this organization

News - Media

More on this organization

Custom Packages

Browse our custom packages or build your own to meet your unique communications needs.

Start today.

CNW Membership

Fill out a CNW membership form or contact us at 1 (877) 269-7890

Learn about CNW services

Request more information about CNW products and services or call us at 1 (877) 269-7890