The Law Society of Saskatchewan began taking steps toward firm regulation in 2014 when The Legal Profession Act was amended to include “firms” as “members” of the Law Society. In 2015, the Law Society joined the Innovating Regulation Project, a joint project between the Law Societies of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba (“the Prairie Law Societies”). The project considered the immense spectrum of the regulatory approaches to determine how best to regulate in an environment where the practice of law and the demand for legal services has changed significantly. These changes are driven by new technologies, new business models and growing concerns about access to justice.
Based on consultation, the Prairie Law Societies concluded that a proactive approach to the regulation of law firms and lawyers would help the law society regulate in not only a more modern way, but in a more effective way. This new approach will help firms manage risk, while reducing the likelihood of conduct leading to a complaint or negligence claims.
The Prairie Law Societies are not alone in this venture as proactive firm regulation is being considered and undertaken other jurisdictions. For example, Nova Scotia and British Columbia are well into this process and other Canadian jurisdictions are in varying degrees of reviewing the firm regulation approach.
The Innovating Regulation Discussion and Consultation Papers are all available on the Innovating Regulation section of the website if you would like to learn more about that particular project.
A significant step towards proactive firm regulation was taken by the Prairie Law Societies with the development and implementation of the Law Firm Practice Management Pilot Project in 2017. The firms that participated in the pilot were asked to appoint a Designated Representative and complete the Law Firm Practice Management Self Assessment Tool (Assessment Tool).
This project was an overall success, with a number of firms participating across the three provinces, providing us with valuable feedback that was for the most part, extremely positive. The purpose of the Assessment Tool is to assist firms in recognising its strengths and to identify areas that require further consideration, along with introductions to best practices, policies and procedures. These are all supported by a vast collection of resources directly related to the components of the Assessment Tool, providing additional support to the firms where needed.
The Assessment Tool is specifically designed to help firms think about the best ways to serve their clients, their lawyers and their employees. In doing so, the Assessment Tool facilitates the development of good business practices by of fostering ethical and efficient practices. From a regulatory perspective, the Assessment Tool helps the firm meet the public’s needs, and consequently, the public’s interest is better protected.
The new Firm Regulation Rules form the new Part 9 of the Law Society Rules take effect January 1, 2020. What this means for firms is:
Firstly, a primary contact person in each firm will receive an email asking them to confirm information about the firm and to appoint a Designated Representative (“DR”). The DR acts as the point person or liaison for the firm and is responsible for all communications on behalf of the firm with the Law Society. The DR is also responsible for completing the Assessment Tool and Annual Report with support from others within the firm, as needed. There are more communications upcoming on this and information specific to the DR will be available early in the new year, so keep an eye out for those communications coming soon.
Secondly, based on feedback from the pilot project, the Assessment Tool is undergoing improvements and an online version is in development. In moving the Assessment Tool and proactive firm regulation forward, we know, based on the feedback we received and have incorporated, firms will experience and appreciate the value of the Assessment Tool.
The implementation of the Assessment Tool will be gradual in nature and it will be rolled out over three years. In most cases firms will only be required to complete the tool once every three years. Further information on the roll out of the Assessment Tool will be provided periodically in the upcoming months.
Finally, most firms will be familiar with the TA-3 which is filed with the Law Society in accordance with the firm’s year end, which in most cases is December 31st. The Annual Report is not another document the firm is being asked to file, rather the TA-3 will be amalgamated into and renamed as the Annual Report. For firms without trust accounts, they will also be required to file an Annual Report unique to them Firms will be required to file an Annual Report for year-end 2020. More information will be made available in the upcoming months.