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Onside of the mythical line

Editor's Desk
|Written By Gail J. Cohen

Our cover story this month deals with Louis Pasquin, the first lawyer in Canada to be found guilty of gangsterism. During his trial, it was revealed Pasquin used his home to help a couple of drug dealers and even conspired with them to traffic drugs.

Pasquin has been practising law for more than 20 years. His clients have included Hells Angels and members of the mafia. Last month, at Pasquin’s sentencing, Quebec court Judge Carol St-Cyr said in handing him a 54-month sentence that Pasquin had facilitated the achievement of illegal ends and abused lawyer-client privilege when he discussed drug deals. At press time, he was out on bail as he’d appealed the conviction.

Pasquin had at first agreed to an interview with Canadian Lawyer for the story but later, reporter Mike King says he changed his mind. Why? We’ll never know, perhaps it’s related to his appeal. While the transcripts of his trial tell a lot about his case, they don’t give much insight into the man and how this lawyer ended up on the wrong side of the law.

There are lots of stories of lawyers gone bad but taken as a percentage of lawyers as a whole, there really aren’t that many. But while statistics from legal insurers might show the largest number of claims relate to real estate law, it’s really criminal lawyers whose clients most often bring them face-to-face with moral dilemmas.

Not being a practising criminal lawyer, I reached out to a number of friends who have been doing it for many years and asked their thoughts about what keeps them on the straight and narrow and what they think may cause lawyers to stray. To me, greed and ego would seem to be the predominant reasons that a lawyer would “cross the line,” so to speak. My experienced friends agreed but one, who has defended not only criminals but lawyers who’ve come up against their regulators for one reason or another, made an interesting point: “Before you cross the line, you need to recognize the line.”

That recognition is not always inherent and keeping yourself on the right track is not a solo operation, it requires a support network, he said. That’s not a touchy-feely thing, but rather a group of people to bounce things off, share ideas, ask questions, get feedback. One of the biggest problems is that many criminal lawyers don’t work in a firm or even in association with others and aren’t comfortable seeking out assistance because it could be seen as a sign of failure. “Most of these problems occur in the dark,” said my learned friend on the issue of lawyers getting a little too involved with their clients.

Another colleague said he’d never had a client tempt him to go to the dark side but noted that he views his job as 50 per cent defending his clients and 50 per cent defending himself — keeping a clear head, being as transparent as he can about everything, getting clear written instructions from clients, leaving conversations if they get to a sketchy point. For him the “line” is clear and he says his clients frequently tell him they appreciate that about him.
Everyone I spoke to agrees: it doesn’t matter how or why you do cross that mythical line, it will catch up with you, personally and/or professionally. So reach out to others for help, take the long view of things, and don’t take the easy way out. It’s not who your clients are but who you are that will stand you in good stead.

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