The Law Society of British Columbia task force struck to provide recommendations for regulating law firms will begin touring the province for feedback from lawyers starting Feb. 15.
Task force chairman Herman Van Ommen says that while the Feb. 15 date has been confirmed, final venues and dates are still being finalized with the task force expecting to kick off its tour in Nanaimo.
Other planned venues, during the two-week tour include Prince George, Abbotsford, Castlegar, Cranbrook, Kelowna, New Westminster, Surrey, Victoria and Vancouver.The tour is being led by Van Ommen and LSBC staff members who will liaison with task force members located in points outside the Lower Mainland including Jan Christiansen, Martin Finch, Peter Lloyd, Lori Mathison, Sharon Mathews, Angela Westmacott, and Henry Wood.
Van Ommen says there was a need to obtain more feedback from members than could be provided online after the task force released its October 2015 consultation paper regarding law firm regulation. “Generally, there is concern that there may be duplication of regulation,” he says. The other concern raised is that the LSBC is wandering into areas where it has no business. One area, which has yielded the none-of-your-business response, is succession planning.
"We feel that law firms should have a plan in place to protect their clients," says Van Ommen, adding that larger firms are often better prepared, with a plan in place, rather than smaller or sole practitioner. He said the LSBC has a whole department in place that currently handles custodial duties for firms that have not had contingency plans for events that may impact a lawyer's ability to practice.
Van Ommen said the consultation paper has yielded feedback from lawyers but not at the depth he would like to see and meetings where a back and forth dialogue can occur would help clarify the resistance that is being encountered. “I’m looking for a deeper dive to these questions,” he says, but he also wants to hear new views on the different aspects of law firm management that will be impacted. He says the intent of the regulations is not to set out a new group of rules that law firms must adhere to, but to provide regulations and then let the management group within law firms devise their own in-house systems and strategies to comply with those regulations.
The firm's managers or partners would be responsible for setting in place those strategies, however, in the small sole practitioner firms, the lawyer would be responsible. Van Ommen wants to ensure that B.C.'s new regulations are in stride with what is happening in the rest of Canada as other jurisdictions bring forward entity regulation so that national firms can better manage their branches across Canada.
The LSBC has broken its concerns into 10 areas: conflict of interest, accounting, lawyer and firm succession plans, marketing, mentoring, training and supervision, client service complaints and client relations, file management, privacy and confidentiality, safe workplace and interpersonal relations, crisis and personal assistance, conduct and competence issues.
Van Ommen says most other provinces have only seven main categories relating to aspects of firm management. “But, you can fit the 10 areas we are concerned about into these seven quite easily,” he says.Good policies in-house will also stop problems from reaching the LSBC, such as in the event of a client being unhappy with a lawyer's work or a lawyer having personal problems and not performing for clients as he should.
Once the discussion sessions have yielded feedback and members gain a better understanding of why the LSBC needs to regulate firms, Van Ommen says the eight-person task force (which includes four benchers) will place its findings and recommendations before the benchers. The benchers as a whole will assess the findings and if satisfied approve the recommendations. The LSBC staff will then be charged with putting those recommendations into regulations, he says.
Van Ommen said he was unsure how the enforcement would be carried as yet but noted that Australia, which has a regulatory system in place, has a self-auditing system and firms annually go over the areas at risk and ensure policies are in place to eliminate any problems.