Monday, March 11, 2013

Launch of the Program on Ethics in Law and Business

By Noel Semple, JD 2007, SSHRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Centre for the Legal Profession

The Faculty of Law's newest and groundbreaking initiative, the Program on Ethics in Law and Business, was officially launched March 5, 2013, with a panel of judges, lawyers, businesspeople and scholars discussing fact scenarios based on two recent Canadian business catastrophes: Nortel and YBM Magnex.

The Centre for the Legal Profession’s PELB is a think tank and advocacy group established to explore real-life ethics at the intersection of two worlds. The distinguished panel included academic director Prof. Anita Anand, Justice Michael Code, Jeremy Fraiberg, Julia Holland, Lawrence Ritchie and Prof. Alexander Dyck.

One major theme was role conflicts. For example, the panel identified the thorny ethical challenges which arise when a lawyer is asked to join the board of a corporate client, or when a lawyer, accustomed to an advocacy role, is required to make full disclosure to a regulator. 

Hon. Frank Iacobucci

The Hon. Frank Iacobucci

Another lively debate was about how ambitious legal ethics should be in the corporate context. Some things are clearly criminal, and others clearly breach lawyers’ Rules of Professional Conduct. But the audience and panel pushed beyond these “black letter” categories. They asked whether legal ethics is a higher calling than mere rule compliance, and whether lawyers should consider themselves the moral conscience of their corporate clients.


Participants also looked beyond the ethical choices of individual lawyers. They identified the internal culture of law firms and CEO suites as powerful influences. They also mooted law reform initiatives to protect whistle-blowers, oblige lawyers to withdraw “noisily” from fraudster corporate clients, or even replace self-regulatory discipline with public prosecution. 

The challenge was perhaps put best by the Hon. Frank Iacobucci, chair of PELB's advisory board, in his closing remarks: “This is new territory for many of us.”  However this stimulating discourse showed that many bright and questioning minds are ready to venture into this new territory together. 

Watch the full webcast of the program here. It is accredited for 1.5 Professionalism Hours by the LSUC.

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