The Making of the Canadian Legal Profession: A Hybrid Heritage

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International Journal of the Legal Profession


Lawyers; Law--History; Canada


The Canadian legal profession emerged from the confluence of two distinct traditions: the American and the English. The colonies of British North America followed the pre-revolutionary American model of a unified legal profession, according to which all lawyers could practice as barristers and solicitors. American and Canadian lawyers pursued a client- and market-driven, eclectic type of practice that was receptive to innovations – such as the large law firm, the contingency fee, and university legal education – that were strongly resisted in England. On the governance side, however, Canadian lawyers created an indigenous but English-inflected model whereby professional self-governance was delegated to a statutorily-created body that had the power to compel all lawyers to join if they wished to practice law. With their commitment to client-centered service and strong governance, Canadian lawyers long enjoyed a cooperative and productive relationship with provincial governments, unlike the adversarial one characteristic of the United States or the long benign neglect of the legal professions by the English state. It is argued that this historical pattern may help to explain the continuing strength of the self-governance model in Canada at a time when it is being questioned and radically reformed elsewhere in the common law world.


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