November 13, 2017

Discipline: Suspended or cancelled registrants who “practice” as non-professionals

Professional Regulation

People who are no longer entitled to carry on professional practice – whether due to a suspension, or to a loss of registration – may attempt to continue practice by bringing themselves within exemptions to practice restrictions. A court may, however, look at the substance of whether someone is attempting to carry on professional practice, under the guise of exceptions, as illustrated by the court’s decision in The Law Society of British Columbia v. Pyper, 2017 BCSC 1197.

Mr. Pyper was previously a lawyer, who had represented two companies (“Seattle” and “ESS”), but he became a former member of the Law Society on Jan. 29, 2015. [1] But in September 2016, he became a director and shareholder of each of Seattle and ESS, and appeared, or attempted to appear, in court to speak on their behalf. [2] In British Columbia, only members of the Law Society may practice law. A company may, however, appoint a director or officer to represent itself in court, with leave of the court. The Law Society sought an injunction prohibiting Mr. Pyper from engaging in the practice of law until he resumed membership in good standing with the Law Society.

The court noted that courts may allow directors or officers to appear in court only where that person is remunerated for regular duties, and not for representing the company in court. [40] The court also noted that other judges had refused to grant Mr. Pyper leave to appear in court due to concerns that his “appointment as a director was simply a means to permit him to be paid to act as a lawyer, when he was not otherwise allowed to do so.” [40] The court concluded that Mr. Pyper was engaged in the practice of law, as he provided legal services to save the company having to hire a lawyer to do the work, in the expectation of a fee or reward, direct or indirect. [43] The court ordered an injunction against Mr. Pyper, although it limited the language of the injunction to recognize that he would be entitled to practice law should he become a member of a law society in another jurisdiction, and obtain a permit to practice in British Columbia through mobility provisions. [57-68].

This case shows that the court may closely examine the veracity of any claim that someone engaging in a reserved act falls within the spirit of an exception. Exceptions open to scrutiny might include, for example, section 14 of the B.C. Health Professions Act, which provides that nothing in the HPA, the regulations or the bylaws “prohibits a person from … (b) providing or giving first aid or temporary assistance to another person in case of emergency if that aid or assistance is given without gain or reward or hope of gain or reward.”

The Law Society of British Columbia v. Pyper, 2017 BCSC 1197

Lisa C. Fong and Michael Ng