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Law Society of B.C. moves to discretionary reporting standards for disciplined lawyers

Lawyers who are disciplined will now have their actions or misconduct publicized in a manner that's discretionary to the Law Society of B.C.'s executive director, who maintains the society website will remain the 'primary' method
The Law Courts in Vancouver, B.C.

The Law Society of B.C. is removing mandatory public notification methods to report disciplinary actions on lawyers in favour of a discretionary approach it claims will "modernize" its communications.

Previously, when a lawyer was suspended, disbarred, resigned or ceased to be a licensed member due to a disciplinary hearing, the society's executive director submitted a public notice to the B.C. Gazette, the newspaper in which the lawyer practiced and the society's website, in addition to notifying the registrar of the B.C. Supreme Court and the Public Guardian and Trustee.

The society regulates lawyers' conduct and is governed by lawyers called benchers who oversee the rules and the society's executive. At the March benchers' meeting, all benchers agreed to strike out those prescriptive methods.

"The recommendation is to permit the Executive Director to review operational practices regularly and respond to changing communication norms and the changing ways the public acquires information to ensure effective communication to the public and the profession about …disciplinary proceedings," stated the March 10 benchers' report from the society's director of policy and planning Michael Lucas KC.

The society's amendment to the bylaw on April 28 indicates the executive director now only needs to "immediately give effective public notice of the suspension, disbarment or resignation."

Ergo, the executive director has no specific method to provide such notification.

Glacier Media asked the society's executive director Don Avison to comment on how these changes would benefit the public interest; however, it received an emailed response from spokesperson Christine Tam.

"The change replaces the prescribed manner of publication with a discretionary approach that permits the Law Society to assess the best way to notify the public about important information, particularly as media consumption changes over time," stated Tam.

While the society claims website notifications are the "primary way of sharing the outcomes of disciplinary proceedings," Glacier Media noted the website itself is no longer a mandatory reporting method, based on the bylaw's amendment; it also noted there is no prescribed manner to address the changing media landscape, such as with online advertisements or via social media outreach.

The society stated it was unlikely that the public subscribes to, or otherwise searches, the gazette's online version and newspaper circulation has been dropping for many years. The society had been paying about $64 for each gazette notification and just under $1,000 for disbarment and suspension notices in the Vancouver Sun and The Province — although costs were not cited as a key concern.

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