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B.C. lawyers reject 'climate conscious lawyering' policies

When someone seeks legal help from a lawyer, is it the lawyer's duty to inform their client about the impact climate change may have on the matter before them? Most B.C. lawyers rejected such a notion at a recent meeting.
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A heat wave in May 2023, as shown in this map of B.C. had everyone, including lawyers, sweltering. But most of those lawyers think the practice of law should remain outside the scope of climate change considerations, according to a recent law society resolution vote.

B.C. lawyers have rejected a proposal to the Law Society of BC that it adopt so-called “climate conscious lawyering” policies that consider the “climate crisis in a way which is compatible with their professional duties and administration of justice.”

The policy proposal was put forth at the society’s annual general meeting on June 27 by lawyers Hasan Alam and Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson.

The resolution would have required lawyers to provide guidance to clients about “risks and opportunities” related to climate change, on matters arising from legal services. This may include advising clients “on the intersection of climate change and human rights.”

But with only 895 lawyers in favour and 1,269 opposed (and 329 abstaining), the resolution failed on a vote.

The proponents had argued climate change is a threat to the world and the effects are particularly severe in Canada’s coastal regions, the Arctic and Indigenous territories. They noted, through B.C.’s adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, Indigenous people have rights to conserve and protect the environment within their territories.

“The Law Society upholds and protects the public interest in the administration of justice in British Columbia by, among other things, preserving and protecting the rights and freedoms of all persons, ensuring the independence, integrity, honour and competence of lawyers, and establishing standards and programs for the education, professional responsibility and competence of lawyers and articled students,” the resolution stated. 

The proponents also called for a task force “to study the topic of the role of lawyers in both advising clients and addressing climate change with the goal of developing further guidelines for lawyers in their practice and climate conscious lawyering.”

It further called on the society to adopt operational goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — something the society said it is already doing.

Law societies in Quebec and New Brunswick have adopted similar policies.

A chief proponent of such policies has been Carol Liao, associate professor at the University of B.C.’s law school and a principal co-investigator with the Canada Climate Law Initiative.

“The linkage should be obvious that the legal profession taking actions to mitigate climate change and be climate competent is well within the LSBC’s public interest mandate,” Liao wrote in her white paper Lawyers in a Warming World.

As such, Liao argued the resolution would complement the recommendations of the Cayton Report, an independent review of the society that called for improvements to public engagement and considerations of the public interest.

That report is guiding the society in its move to a government-proposed single legal regulator, which is to include paralegals and notaries.

At the meeting lawyers rejected a call to hold a referendum on paralegals, with proponents of the referendum in opposition to the society’s support for licensing paralegals and sharing a regulatory body with them and notaries.

At issue is the independence of the society, from government. The society has stated it is in favour of the regulator so long as lawyers hold a majority of board seats.

“If we need to litigate that issue we will,” society bencher Jeevyn Dhaliwal told the meeting after the referendum pitch failed.

The meeting also saw the passing of a resolution to eliminate re-credentialing after parental leave. Proponents noted the practice disadvantaged lawyers who become parents and take time off to be with their children.

gwood@glaciermedia.ca