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By Barbra Bailey, Policy Counsel, & Brenda Hildebrandt, QC, Bencher
Law Society of Saskatchewan
The Legal Profession Act, 1990 was amended in 2014 to include firms as members of the Law Society. Under the Act, one of the duties of the Law Society is to protect the public by assuring the integrity, knowledge, skill, proficiency and competence of members. As the Law Society works to design a framework for regulating law firms in addition to lawyers, it has been exploring a proactive approach. This would allow both law firms and the Law Society to be more responsive to a diverse and profoundly changing environment, to enhance the quality of legal services, to encourage ethical legal practice and to foster innovation in legal services.
Over the past couple of years, the Law Society has communicated with the membership in a variety of forums regarding the concept of proactive firm/entity regulation. However, in developing resources and a method of assessment, a more specific consultation was desired.
The Assessment Tool
To determine the most meaningful way to engage with law firms though proactive regulation, the Law Society of Saskatchewan has been participating in a pilot project to test a new resource that helps firms assess the robustness of their practice management systems and firm culture. Created by the Prairie Law Societies, the Law Firm Practice Management Assessment Tool (the “Assessment Tool”) helps a firm recognize its strengths and provides “things to consider” in areas where opportunities for improvement have been identified. These include examples of how a law firm might put practices, policies or procedures into place, along with links to further resources that law firms can use in addressing practice management concerns.
The Assessment Tool places the focus on the firm because we know that the systems, norms and culture of a firm greatly influence the conduct and overall practice of its lawyers. We also recognize that lawyers are busy people and collecting resources and assessing infrastructure can be time-consuming. By its design, the Assessment Tool is intended not only as an evaluation mechanism, but also as a convenient source of best practice resources for firms. The content of the Assessment Tool is designed to help firms think about ways to best serve their clients, their lawyers and their employees. This fosters both public protection in ethical, efficient practice as well as good business.
The Pilot Project
As the regulation of law firms is a relatively new idea in Canada, it was important to the Law Society to test the Assessment Tool through a pilot project and receive feedback from members before determining whether this new approach should be implemented and, if so, how. We collaborated with the Law Societies of Alberta and Manitoba to design the Prairie Law Societies’ Law Firm Practice Management Pilot Project (the “Pilot Project”). The goal was to test the functionality of the Assessment Tool and determine how it could be used in helping firms work with the Law Society to ensure sound practice management systems are in place.
Pilot Project participants were identified by randomly selecting firms of various sizes throughout the province, providing a representative sample of Saskatchewan firms. Those firms were then invited to voluntarily participate in the Pilot Project. Ultimately, 22 Saskatchewan firms participated. A similar process was followed in Alberta and Manitoba.
Participating firms were asked to designate a representative to be the point person for the Pilot Project. The designated representative’s task was to ensure the firm undertook the self-assessment, using the Assessment Tool, which references a number of principles relating to practice management and firm culture. The designated representative then reported to the Law Society about things that the firm has been doing well and also identified areas for improvement. The designated representatives were then asked to complete an evaluation of the Assessment Tool, and conduct an exit interview about their experience. This feedback has been extremely informative and will be crucial to the determinations the Benchers will make about the ultimate assessment process.
Where do we go from here?
The Pilot Project is in its final stages and the Law Society will now take some time to review the feedback received from the participants before determining the next steps for this initiative.
The ultimate goal is to foster a more collaborative relationship between the Law Society and its members, including firms, and to help lawyers and firms manage risk so that the likelihood of conduct leading to a complaint or negligence is minimized. As the Law Society moves toward implementing a proactive approach to regulating law firms, it will strive to create an approach that is practical, productive and meaningful for both the Law Society and our members.
Pilot Project Participants
The feedback we have received from the participating firms has been invaluable. Our thanks is extended to each of them for the time they have dedicated to the project and the input they have provided: