The Barreau du Québec, seemingly blessed with a knack for pushing the boundaries over the raison d’être of a professional corporation, is now in the television business.
In association with the French-language public educational television network Télé-Québec, the Barreau recently launched a television series on a popular French-language cable station called Canal Savoir. Entitled “Le Droit de Savoir,” a play on words that literally means “right to know,” the show boasts being the only television series – at least in Quebec – devoted to legal information. On air as of September 17, the television show will broadcast 13 episodes of 27 minutes each on Thursday evenings. Each episode will be re-broadcast four times a week as well as be available on the show’s website.
“People have a thirst for legal information that explains their rights and obligations,” remarked Michel Doyon, the former batonnier who spearheaded the project. “Law is complex and misunderstood, and people’s knowledge of law emanates from all over. We want to make it more accessible.”
Aimed at the general public, the tastefully-done show tackles a wide range of topics, from the rights and responsibilities of property owners and the legal myths surrounding common-law unions to the legal abc’s of launching a business and the role and responsibilities of professional corporations, all of which is interspersed with legal tidbits and profiles of Quebec lawyers who made a mark in their practice.
The themes were chosen by the two co-producers of the show – the Barreau and Télé-Québec – with input from Educaloi, a non-profit organization whose mandate is to inform Quebecers of their rights and obligations by providing legal information in vernacular. Through its popular website, Educaloi was able to determine the legal questions that were most raised.
More than 50 lawyers, including several judges, from all corners of the province participated in the show, all of whom readily accepted. “It was very easy to convince them to partake in the show, but less so to make them comfortable before the cameras,” said Doyon. “We even had one lawyer who was completely frozen. Completely unable to utter a single word. He was that intimidated by the camera. But it eventually worked out.”
Staring down at a camera is certainly not something that fazed Linda Goupil, the first female Quebec justice minister. “I participated because it is important that people be well-informed, over their rights and the manner in which the legal system functions,” said Goupil, who is the subject of a profile in one of the shows.
While Barreau’s standing as a television producer may make some professional legal corporations uncomfortable, the Barreau has no qualms about it. Just as it was a pioneer among professional legal corporations by single-mindedly becoming the driving force behind Quebec’s flourishing private judicare legal model, the Barreau now seems intent on broadening its mandate to protect the public by enthusiastically embracing its role as a co-producer of a television show whose lofty goal is to demystify the legal world. “The Barreau’s mission is to protect the public and inform the public – it’s just not overseeing the competency of its members,” said Doyon succinctly.
It’s a position that Goupil, now working mainly as a mediator with the Quebec City law firm Lagacé, Goupil et Lacasse, is also comfortable with. Indeed, she believes that informing the public on matters relating to justice, be it through television or other vehicles, certainly falls within the scope of the Barreau’s mandate to protect the public.
“In order to be able to protect the public, the public must be well-informed,” noted Goupil, who was the province’s justice minister from 1998 to 2001 under the Lucien Bouchard government. “A television show such as Le Droit de Savoir fulfils the Barreau’s mandate of protecting the public as it provides general information addressed to the public. A better informed citizen can make more pragmatic decisions as a consumer of legal services. Just as it is important for the public to be informed over their rights and the way the legal system functions, so it is important that a professional corporation be able to use a medium that is accessible to the largest number of people, free of charge, precisely in order to provide them with information.”
In some ways, though, economics drove the Barreau to become a co-producer. A former member of the Board of Directors at Radio-Canada from 1987 to 1999, Doyon had long dreamed of launching a speciality channel devoted solely to the legal world. Deeming it too farfetched, Doyon kept the idea to himself until he went to France about two years ago when he found out that the Barreau de Paris made an application to launch a legal specialty channel. Though the Barreau de Paris lost its bid to a competitor, Doyon realized that “my idea wasn’t as crazy as it appeared.” Shortly thereafter he broached an acquaintance from his broadcasting past — Michèle Fortin, former Radio-Canada vice-president and current president of Télé-Québec. While warm to the idea, she told Doyon it would make far more economic sense to launch a television series based on his idea to determine if there was interest.
“We then had a choice to make,” explained Doyon. “If we opted to opted to go forward with a general broadcaster, the show would not have been as long and we would have had to deal with advertising – and that’s something we didn’t want. Realizing that a broadcaster could not by itself take on all the expenses, unless there was advertising, we decided to take a portion of our budget used to finance the show.”
While neither Doyon nor the Barreau would reveal how much the show cost to produce, Doyon did reveal that the professional corporation paid for half the tab. Normally a television show comprising of 13 half-hour episodes costs approximately $700,000, said Barreau spokesperson France Bonneau. But that is not what the show cost to produce, emphasized Bonneau.
Depending on the success of the show, the Barreau may continue producing yet more. “We’re in the midst of thinking about it,” said Doyon, who added that it may even launch the show in a English-language specialty channel if there is interest, albeit with subtitles.
This story was originally published in The Lawyers Weekly.