The “Good Character” Requirement of Registration with the Law Society of Ontario

“Good character” is a condition of registration with the Law Society of Ontario (“LSO”) for all lawyers and paralegals in all classes of licensure.

What is “good character”

According to a leading LSO decision, “character” has the following meaning and definition:

that combination of qualities or features distinguishing one person from another. Good character connotes moral or ethical strength, distinguishable as an amalgam of virtuous attributes or traits which undoubtedly include, among others, integrity, candour, empathy and honesty.

[Armstrong v. Law Society of Upper Canada, 2009 ONLSHP 29, upheld at 2011 ONLSAP 1.]

 

Application Form

When applying for registration with the LSO, the applicant must answer a number of questions concerning the “good character” requirement. The subject areas of the questions can include the following:

  • Current or past criminal proceedings;
  • Judgments involving fraud;
  • Outstanding civil judgments;
  • Disobeying court orders;
  • Any past censure, disqualification, suspension, or discipline by a professional organization;
  • Any past denial or revocation of any license or permit as a result of failing to meet good character requirements;
  • Any past refusal of admission into a professional body;
  • Academic misconduct;
  • Bankruptcy;
  • Violations of human rights legislation;
  • Past sanctions or penalties by courts, administrative tribunals, or regulatory bodies;
  • Whether you have ever been discharged from past employment in a situation where the employer alleged that the discharge was for cause.

Screening and investigation by LSO

Affirmative answers to “good character” questions can trigger further inquiry by the LSO, including review by the Complaints & Compliance Department, the Professional Regulation Division, and/or ultimately an investigation by the Investigation Department, depending on the seriousness of the character issue.

In the course of screening or investigation, the applicant may be required to answer inquiries from the LSO, provide additional evidence, or attend for an interview. At the end of the investigation process, the Law Society will determine if the character issue in question warrants a referral to a hearing by the LSO’s Hearing Division.

“Good Character” hearing

Section 27(4) of the Law Society Act provides that the LSO can refuse to issue a lawyer or paralegal license only after a hearing by the LSO Hearing Division. Therefore, if following an investigation the LSO has concerns about the applicant’s character that could potentially prevent a license from being issued, the matter is referred to the LSO Hearing Division for a “good character” hearing.

The applicant and the LSO are both parties to a “good character” hearing. The “good character” hearing is concerned with the applicant’s present character. Typically, in an LSO “good character” hearing, the Panel hears evidence and argument from the applicant and the LSO about the following:

(a)        the nature and duration of the misconduct;

(b)        whether the applicant is remorseful;

(c)        what rehabilitative efforts, if any, have been taken, and the success of such efforts;

(d)        the applicant’s conduct since the proven misconduct; and

(e)        the passage of time since the misconduct.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the LSO panel can make a number of different orders, including but not limited to (1) an order granting a license, with or without terms and conditions; (2) a request for further evidence; and/or (3) a refusal to grant a license.

An LSO “good character” inquiry or hearing is a challenging and serious matter, which can have significant consequences for the applicant’s ability to practice as a lawyer of paralegal. Applicants subject to a “good character” inquiry or hearing should take such matters seriously and respond accordingly.

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