When big law firm lawyers won’t say ‘No’ to unethical demands from major clients

Canadian Bar Association’s Ethics Forum underlines why ordinary citizens should involve themselves in the discussion. Legal Ethics are too important to be left to the legal profession alone.

by Donald Best, former Sergeant, Detective, Toronto Police

by Donald Best, former Sergeant, Detective, Toronto Police

In life and in legal practice, sometimes making an ethical decision is simple, even easy. Other times, doing the right thing, no matter how carefully considered, seems to be an impossiblity given all the circumstances.

In any profession the laws, practices, technologies and societal expectations are constantly changing in ways that make new difficulties for anyone trying to behave ethically. While I’m sure that plumbers and ceramic tile installers have their ethical concerns and codes of conduct, I think you’ll agree with me that along with medicine, the practice of law is probably one of the most difficult professions when it comes to the challenge of behaving ethically.

The Canadian Bar Association’s Ethics Forum is coming up on March 7, 2016. I won’t be attending but I just might next year after my book is published, because the one thing that seems to be missing at these conferences is the perspective from outside of the legal communities.

While some lawyers may not appreciate independent civilian involvement and oversight of the legal profession, virtually all ordinary Canadians I’ve spoken with agree that laws and the practice of law are far too important and foundational to our society to be left to lawyers alone.

The list of speakers and moderators at this year’s Ethics Forum includes many of the ‘Who’s Who’ leaders in the area of legal ethics. Malcolm Mercer (McCarthy Tetrault LLP) and Alice Woolley (University of Calgary) are the co-chairs. Dr. Steven Vaughan (University of Birmingham) will deliver the keynote speech.

Other panelists and moderators include:

  • Brent Cotter, University of Saskatchewan
  • Elaine Craig, Schulich School of Law
  • Adam Dodek, University of Ottawa
  • Allan Fineblit, Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP
  • Charles Gluckstein, Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers
  • Stephen Goudge, Paliare Roland LLP
  • Julia Holland, Torys LLP
  • Gavin Hume, Harris & Co
  • Jasminka Kalajdzic, Windsor Law School
  • Darrel Pink, Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society
  • Stephen Pitel, Western University
  • Amy Salyzyn, University of Ottawa
  • Noel Semple, Windsor Law School

Although I won’t be attending this year, I do have an ethical question for the panels to consider, especially in light of the topic of Dr. Vaughan’s keynote address about the too-cosy relationships between large law firms and some major clients:

Example Situation: A Large Law Firm lawyer acts unethically. Should the law firm refund the client’s payments for ‘work done’?

And just to make it interesting for the discussion panels at the Ethics Forum, the following example is real, and involves one of the law firms (but not the lawyers) participating on the panels:    Read more

Big Law firms’ anonymous internet postings about clients, cases and legal opposition. Part 1 in a new series.

Miller Thomson Computer Crime SAN

“Let’s start with Miller Thomson LLP’s anonymous Internet postings about the National Hockey League Players Association and work up from there.”

Is it ethical for lawyers to anonymously post on the Internet about their cases, clients and legal opponents?

by Donald Best

by Donald Best, former Sergeant, Detective, Toronto Police

Since at least 2004, personnel from Miller Thomson LLP’s Toronto law office made dozens of anonymous Internet postings on Wikipedia.org and other websites; about clients, opponents and others involved in ongoing legal matters. I’ve also discovered that some other Big Law firms similarly made anonymous postings over the years.

But before the public calls upon the Law Society of Upper Canada to investigate, we had better ask “Who will watch the watchmen?”

As an example, my investigations show that in 2009 personnel from the law society themselves posted anonymously on Wikipedia.org about then Osgoode law student Wendy Babcock, a former Toronto sex-worker and political organizer. Babcock later committed suicide in 2011.

This extraordinary information is easily confirmed online by anyone with Internet access.

You’ll be able to confirm everything for yourself after reading this and other articles in the series. (So will investigators from the Law Society of Upper Canada; not that LSUC takes any action against BIG LAW firms like Miller Thomson LLP, but that is a separate issue.)

National Hockey League Players Association

Personnel from Miller Thomson’s Toronto law office anonymously posted on the Internet about the National Hockey League Players Association, former NHLPA Executive Director Bob Goodenow and then NHLPA associate counsel Ian Pulver.

These anonymous Internet postings appear to have been made at a time when Miller Thomson LLP either represented some of the subjects of the articles, or represented other clients in existing and/or potential legal proceedings or negotiations involving the subjects.

Over the years, Miller Thomson law office personnel also made many other anonymous Internet postings about persons and entities involved in legal actions, negotiations and labour disputes. Although their motives are not always apparent, one thing that is clear is that Miller Thomson personnel chose to make these Internet postings anonymously instead of using their real names or attributing the postings to Miller Thomson.

Are MIller Thomson’s actions ethical? Do their actions contravene any rules of the Law Society of Upper Canada?

Lawyers and other law firm personnel deal with privileged, confidential and intimately private information daily. That these same lawyers and staff would anonymously post information online about their clients, cases and legal opponents should be of grave concern to the legal profession and governing bodies because it tends to undermine public confidence in lawyers and thus in the justice system itself.

Forensic investigations revealed the truth about this little-known activity by law firm personnel. Other Big Law firms have been up to the same thing: a coming article in the series will consider anonymous Internet postings by Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP and some other BIG LAW firms.

Are lawyers and law office personnel allowed to make anonymous Internet postings about their legal cases, clients and opponents?

To the ordinary Canadian, the Rules of Professional Conduct as posted on the website of the Law Society of Upper Canada appear to be so general and vague as to be almost useless as a guide in some of the incidents documented in this series. Other incidents I present in this new series are, however, obviously in violation of the LSUC Rules and of various Federal and Provincial laws as well.

Perhaps some lawyers out there might be able to comment after reading this article and others in the series.

I have identified a number of different types of anonymous internet activities that Miller Thomson and some other Canadian lawyers, law firms and legal personnel appear to be engaged in. In order of increasingly serious conduct:

  1. Anonymously changing the online public record about clients, cases and legal opponents.
  2. Anonymously spreading online rumours, misinformation & discord.
  3. Serious misconduct, including anonymous online threats against opposing witnesses, harassment, posting of confidential information including Identity Information as defined in the Criminal Code.

Once again, all of these activities happen in situations where the subjects of the anonymous conduct are either legal clients or opposing entities. And, in at least three examples I’ve found, personnel from law firms made anonymous internet postings about competing law firms and lawyers.

NHLPA Logo-private

Example #1: Miller Thomson personnel anonymously changed the public internet record about Robert W. “Bob” Goodenow, Executive Director of the National Hockey League Players Association       Read more

Words from the Canadian Superior Court Judges Association… but do they really believe?

Canadian Superior Court Judges SAN

“No one in Canada is above the law. Everyone, no matter how wealthy or how powerful they are, must obey the law or face the consequences.”

Canadian Superior Court Judges Association ‘The Rule of Law

by Donald Best

by Donald Best, former Sergeant, Detective, Toronto Police

Time for some honesty and reality

There are times when, despite being over 60 years old and a former police detective, I feel like a naive boy scout to have had the solid faith I once had in our Canadian justice system.

My faith was not blind, but I believed that despite the weaknesses in our system, Canadians could be assured that there were no protected classes, and that no one was truly above the law. I no longer believe that.

In my life as a police officer, I twice said the words “I am arresting you for murder” – a phrase that not many of my fellow Canadians have spoken. Not many police officers have said those words once, let alone twice.

I have arrested police officers, priests, teachers, politicians, judges, nurses, bus drivers and school-aged children for everything from unpaid parking tickets to extortion and murder.

The Privileged Classes

And, rarely over the years, I’ve seen some from the privileged classes walk free from solid criminal charges when there was no logical reason in law for that to have happened. Read more

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