The Mentality and Attitudes of Lawyers

Compelled Speech and the Last Bencher Election

I am retired. I did not have a vote in the last Law Society of Ontario (“LSO”) election, at which party politics showed up for the first time.

Although I did not have a horse in the race, I did follow the nastiness from afar. Various candidates were not satisfied with debating ideas. They found it necessary to vilify their opponents.

More than one source has told me that at least one of the parties hired a professional political campaign manager to manage its campaign. I am told that under that person’s direction, they used the same type of database software that is employed by our major political parties. Into this database went the names of lawyers and their expected political leanings, complete with information about their gender and ethnicity.

I have also been told about one firm that required its Associates to campaign on behalf of one of its Partners.  According to my source, the Associates were instructed to support the firm’s Partner and compelled to make calls to their own contacts in support of the campaign. Then, they were instructed to feed data on those calls into the software.

It did not matter that these Associates were not hired to participate in political campaigns, may not have thought that the Partner in question was qualified to be a Bencher, may not have agreed with the candidate’s political stance, and were not being paid to be political operatives. Their boss told them that they were required to do this, and they had no choice but to comply.

The Associate who spoke to me had to grin and bear it while they were subjected to constant pressure to work on their boss’s campaign, and then asked which way they themselves had voted. There was only one correct answer.

I am told that even the names of the firm’s own Associates found their way into the database with an indication of whether or not they supported the firm’s nominee. If true, Joseph McCarthy would have been proud.

Now, although my information is second hand, I am pretty sure that this happened in at least this one firm. What I don’t know is how widespread these practices were. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people are not rushing forward to jeopardize their careers by speaking out.

On the assumption that what I have been told is correct, let’s put this in a broader context. The LSO is charged with upholding the Rule of Law. At a time when that fundamental aspect of democracy is at risk across the western world, we must be vigilant not to allow this rot to take hold in an institution whose membership is charged with safeguarding it.

The question is whether the LSO is going to look into this and, if it is true, put some rules in place to ensure that this does not happen again. Personally, I am not optimistic.

Some noise from the bleachers might encourage the LSO to act. The Benchers are not going to do it if you don’t make them.

This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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