September 9, 2014

Kevin Gourlay

All lawyers have had to proceed through an interview with a Law Society bencher to determine that they are of sufficient good character and repute to become a lawyer.  For most, this is a rubber stamp.  For those with checkered pasts, it can become an issue and require a full Law Society hearing.

In a recent credentials hearing, the Law Society considered the application of a lawyer who had left the profession to live in France and sought re-admission to the bar on his return.  However, his departure had been somewhat less than orderly.  The decision begins:

[1] Many of us sometimes dream of leaving behind all life’s worries and running off to some far off land in the hopes of starting life afresh. The Applicant actually realized this dream when he left his law practice and his life in Canada behind him in 1999 to pursue a new life in France. Unfortunately, the Applicant left before all his affairs were in order, and this resulted in financial loss and inconvenience for former clients and others such as the Law Society and the Applicant’s bank.

Unfortunately, France had also not worked out for the Applicant and after running into financial troubles there, he returned to Canada in 2010.  He first worked as a taxi driver and realtor before seeking readmission to the bar.

The initial application had been allowed but on this review, the 7-member panel found that to be an error.  The applicant, they concluded, had done little to purge his past wrongs.  He had failed to meet the onus of demonstrating that he was of sufficiently good character to become a lawyer and his application for reinstatement was denied.

It brings to mind the case of Stephen Glass, reporter for the New Republic who was found to be a serial plagiarist in the 1990s.  After having been chased out of journalism, the undoubtedly intelligent Glass turned to law.  In a lengthy journey that first saw him denied by the New York Bar, he ultimately sought admission to the California Bar.  His application made its way all the way to the California Supreme Court before ultimately being denied:

Glass and the witnesses who supported his application stress his talent in the law and his commitment to the profession, and they argue that he has already paid a high enough price for his misdeeds to warrant admission to the bar. They emphasize his personal redemption, but we must recall that what is at stake is not compassion for Glass, who wishes to advance from being a supervised law clerk to enjoying a license to engage in the practice of law on an independent basis. Given our duty to protect the public and maintain the integrity and high standards of the profession, our focus is on the applicant’s moral fitness to practice law. On this record, the applicant failed to carry his heavy burden of establishing his rehabilitation and current fitness.



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