Interview with Lucien Bouchard

By Yves Faguy June 2012

The former Premier of Quebec sat down with Yves Faguy during the CCCA World Summit in Montreal to talk about the state of the legal profession and current affairs.

Interview with Lucien Bouchard

Photography by Pierre Charbonneau

Question: You have had a long law career, both before and after politics. In your view, how has the profession changed?

Answer: For the better and for the not-so-better, I would say. There is great support for professional development, which is much improved compared to the past, in my view. Today, when young lawyers join our firms, they are better prepared than we generally were. They have received a broader education. So I think their education covers more ground — not to speak ill of our own educators — but there has been some advancement. What’s more, I find that junior lawyers are now given larger responsibilities much sooner than we were. On the other hand, the profession has become more commercial. And I understand that this is probably an unavoidable imperative in an increasingly sophisticated society, where regulations keep proliferating, where the competition has become fierce. So, in turn, management considerations have guided our decisions. And be­cause of competition, big and small firms must bend to the rules of commerce, more so than in the past. This is not necessarily a good thing, though lawyers are better managed. On the other hand, we don’t want law to be just a business. Law is a profession. And we must never lose sight of that fact.

Q: What surprises you the most about the Charter’s impact on Canadian society?

A: The acceptance of it. It was quite popular at the time we [adopted it]. Of course the provincial government in Quebec tried to block us, pretending we were taking away powers from the provincial governments; however, the public always enjoyed the Charter of Rights and felt secure with it. And still to this day, 90 per cent of the so-called separatists — I would say 80 per cent — would say they approve of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which gives me a lot of satisfaction.

Q: Last year, at the Canadian Bar Association’s annual Legal Conference, Governor-General, David Johnston said that he feared we were moving away from professionalism. He asked lawyers to take a look at themselves. Do you have any thoughts on this?

A: I think that lawyers are generally aware of all that. Because when you become a lawyer, you know that you are becoming a professional, and you are also well aware that your relationship with your clients, and vice versa, is based essentially on trust. Yes, there is a business side, and this is normal. But the fact remains that lawyers are chosen because of the trust they inspire, which implies a whole human process, at the personal level, in delivery services, and there are also ethical rules. Nor should we forget that a lawyer is not just a professional; a lawyer must also fulfill the role of an auxiliary of justice. A lawyer is seen as a bridge between the citizens and the courts. This must not be forgotten. Globalization has had a major influence on us. Some thought must be given to this matter, and lawyers know they will have to find solutions to some of the problems we face, for instance the entire question of access to justice.

Q: This is where public trust comes into play.

A: That is probably the main problem: public trust. That is the very role of justice in a society. We have an absolutely outstanding legal system — everyone agrees. But how can it be accessed? That is another matter. Because the commercial pressures we have just identified have had an influence on costs; on costs, and therefore on fees.

"We have an absolutely outstanding legal system — everyone agrees. But how can it be accessed? That is another matter." Lucien Bouchard Former Premier of Quebec. Partner, Davies, Montreal.
Q: In England, they seem to have decided that the solution is to deregulate the profession and allow non-lawyers to have an ownership interest in legal services firms.

A: Yes, but this is a serious attack on the professional nature of the service. Because when you talk about a profession, you are talking about ethical obligations; peer review; the intervention of a professional order which is a watchdog, and makes rules. So when you talk about deregulation, what does it mean? It means that the quality of the services will obviously be affected. There will be other solutions. In particular, I think that more and more, we lawyers should, at least voluntarily, take on a quota of pro bono work. We should do more, all of us, before the Bar decides to force us to do it.

Q: I would like to move on to current events. There is much talk of Quebec’s Plan Nord. Is this the grand project that Quebec should be adopting?

A: Wanting to develop natural resources is a normal project. It is a legitimate one. It must be done properly. It must be done responsibly. It must be done with respect for the environment and with a level of social acceptance and following an approach that is in line with public interests. But it must be done. Because the needs of government are constantly growing. We need to create wealth. The existing programs must be supported. As social democrats we have built safety nets, but these need to be maintained and probably improved. Especially education: more money needs to be put into it. And health: the needs are huge. In Quebec, there is the infrastructure issue, and research to develop renewable energy sources. And this needs to be done as fast as possible. But a lot of money will have to be invested. So we have to develop our resources. But we must put our trust in the public authorities and make a decision to go forward with major projects. I think we will make it, but our governments, especially in Quebec, have some tough problems when it comes to public finances.

This article has been edited and condensed from the original interview conducted in French. Yves Faguy is the senior editor of National.

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