28 December 2012

New Code of Professional Conduct in Force in January

The new Code of Professional Conduct (PDF), the primary ethical guide governing the conduct of lawyers in British Columbia, will be in effect on 1 January 2013. The new Code will replace the Professional Conduct Handbook, which has provided guidance to lawyers for the last twenty years.

According to an article published in the Law Society's newsletter Benchers' Bulletin, the rational for the new Code stems from the need to harmonize ethical standards among the provinces and territories to allow lawyers to more easily practice in multiple jurisdictions. The Code is based on a model code of conduct developed by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada which has already been adopted in Alberta, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan.

The Benchers' Bulletin article gives the impression that not much has changed between the Handbook and the new Code:
"The BC Code has been designed as a reference tool to help assist lawyers and the Law Society in answering those ethical questions. The ethical guidelines familiar from the Handbook have been preserved in the BC Code, but they have been expressed in a way that is expected to make it easier for the profession to use. 
"'The principles are the same, but the manner of expressing those principles is better,' said [Gavin] Hume. He describes the Handbook as a kind of 'statutory' document, similar to legislation. The BC Code, on the other hand, provides a rule and then additional commentary on how the rule operates."
Family law lawyers already grappling with the new Family Law Act, new regulations and new rules for the Supreme Court and Provincial Court will be grateful for the relative modesty of the change.