This competency requires a lawyer to possess not only knowledge of legal ethics but the skill to apply legal ethics in practice and conduct him or herself with professionalism as a representative of the Court and the justice system in Alberta.
To many people, ethics is a nebulous construct that is hard to pin down in practice. For the Law Society, ethics are those value judgments and areas of understanding that differentiate right from wrong in your delivery of legal services and the day-to-day decisions required to practice in a way that is of high moral standing, good character and that sets an example for the public and other lawyers. Ethical behaviour is characterized by good quality decision making that aligns with accepted morals and codes of conduct. Issues around access to justice are a common theme in discussions about legal ethics and the responsibility to ensure legal services are widely accessible.
Self-regulation of the profession is also a frequent topic of discussions, as well as conflicts of interest in legal practice, cultural competence, and judicial ethics. It is a broad construct that leads to much debate.
Professionalism is another concept that can have a variety of interpretations. Professionalism is, in part, the practice of applying legal ethics in the delivery of legal services. It includes not only how you interact with your clients but the decisions you make regarding their legal issues, and your interactions with the Court, other lawyers, your staff and colleagues, as well as how you deliver services, manage your office and interact with your regulator. Professionalism refers to the quality of your practice and can include your comportment, time management, respect for yourself and others, and your overall practice style.
The Canadian Association for Legal Ethics has a variety of materials on its website that discuss ethics and professionalism in the Canadian context.
While this competency is a mandatory component of your CPD plan, as it is across Canada and in many U.S. jurisdictions, there are many ways to include increased knowledge about ethics and professionalism in your learning for the year. Many substantive law course and conferences include ethics within their discussions. Many national programs will identify an ethics component in their course information to help you identify the course as one that will meet this requirement. Additionally, there are many legal ethics scholars in Canada who write on this topic so there is an abundance of material for you to access to improve your understanding and application of legal ethics and professionalism in practice. There are many books, articles and Court decisions that discuss this topic, as well.
You can find additional suggestions within the lawyer portal as you go through the CPD plan template. When you expand the areas of learning and knowledge, as well as the activities tab, within each competency, you can find practical suggestions for how to incorporate this competency into your annual professional development plan.
Written by: Jennifer Freund, Policy Counsel