Peter Allard, a lawyer and major donor to the UBC law school recently delivered a speech at the opening of the new school building at UBC.  It was a superb speech and I wish anyone interested in the role and future of lawyers in Canada would read it.

“Honoured and Distinguished Guests,

On looking back over my many years in law, there was no more important class in my mind, than the first year course in ethics. “Honesty”, “integrity” and the unofficial “smell test” are the hallmarks of the Rule of Law, and with the Rule of Law comes justice. It fosters to this day a sense that the Rule of Law is, and should be, accessible to, and respectful of, every single human being.

You already know that lawyers are involved in and affect every segment of our lives, often behind the scenes. And I don’t have to remind anyone that lawyers, besides practicing law, go into politics, become judges, and pursue a host of other occupations in the private and public sectors. Many of you know or can expect that the practice of law can be a grind. I have deep respect for those who “do the grind” year in and year out in their ethical service to society.

But I have an even greater respect for those who believe that buried deep within each legal strategy or decision must be a social contract and equity that provides for the long term greater good in society, no matter how trivial the task, no matter how small the retainer. Our profession has more impact on our society than any other. When we do our job well, we see that the Rule of Law is upheld and we protect our clients, our neighbors and fellow citizens against the vagaries of unchecked abuses of power and corruption. If we didn’t do this, day in and day out, we would lose our freedom. It is more than eternal vigilance that is the price of freedom but a strong and moral judicial activism to enforce these concepts. And if we don’t do this the right way, we will not sustain long term growth and stability for our nation and our fellow world citizens. I do worry. Over the past decade I have noticed that legal checks and balances have sometimes “flown out the window” with lawyers losing sight of their privileged role in society and their duty to uphold the Rule of Law.

I think sometimes lawyers are willfully blind or regrettably even complicit in the short term gains and greed of their clients versus long term growth and stability. We only have to look at what happened in 2008. It was a time when rating agency opinions were bought, and banks accepted securities documents knowing that they were not “Triple A” but rather junk bond status, or in fact worthless. Ordinary people now suffer terribly as a result of regulatory bodies being gutted and silenced. Equity losses in homes, businesses and pension funds have hurt nearly everyone in our nation and around the world to a degree never before seen in my lifetime. It didn’t have to happen. There were many lawyers, as well as individuals and organizations who fought for responsible corporate governance and reasonable regulation, but it wasn’t enough.

The small group of lawyers who did speak up were drowned out by those who put profit before principle. Willful blindness and blinkers were the “modus operandi”, and “how does this affect me” and “it’s none of my business” that allowed an unaccountable process to take root and accelerate. Too many of our countrymen have suffered and are paying the price today for this decade of deregulation and loss of checks and balances. But every person here has special talent. And this talent can be a part of the process to restore accountability and transparency to our fragile democracies. It is my belief that UBC Law at Allard Hall could be pivotal each year in recognizing and spotlighting one or more individuals and/or organizations internationally who have struggled to overcome the abuse of power or who have steadfastly promoted human rights to champion a much more stable and sustainable long term democracy.”

Here is a copy of the complete speech: