In Saskatchewan the Innovating Regulation Project was the starting point. It was joint project between the Law Societies of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The project considered the immense spectrum of the regulatory rules in order 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 have been driven by things including:
The Prairie Law Society Group concluded that a proactive approach to the regulation of law firms and lawyers would help the law society regulate in not only in 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 group is 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 Group with the development and implementation of the Law Firm Practice Management Pilot Project in 2017. 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, the most part extremely positive. The pilot was quite straightforward in which participating firms were asked to appoint a Designated Representative and complete the Law Firm Practice Management Self Assessment Tool.
The purpose of the self assessment tool is to assist firms in recognising its strengths and to provide them with additional considerations they have missed, 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 tool facilitates the development of good business practices in terms 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.
Firm Regulation Rules/ Requirements
The new Firm Regulation Rules form the new Part 9 of the Law Society Rules, and will take effect January 1, 2020. What this means for firms is:
Firstly, firms will be asked to complete a Firm Registration Form which includes the appointment of a Designated Representative. The Designated Representative (“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, with support from others within the firm as needed. The DR is responsible for submitting the Annual Report and maintaining any documents pursuant to the Rules. We do have more communications upcoming on this and specific supports for the DR as well so you can keep an eye out for those coming soon.
Secondly, an online assessment tool is currently under development. In moving the Assessment Tool and proactive firm regulation forward, the feedback we received from the Pilot was crucial to the development of the firm regulation framework that supports the rules we now have in place. So, we know, based on the feedback we received and have incorporated, firms will experience and appreciate the value of this tool.
The implementation of the assessment tool is gradual in nature and will be rolled out over three years. This means that some firms may not be required to complete the Tool until 2022 and in most cases the firms will only be required to complete the tool once every three years.
Finally, most firms will be familiar with the TA-3 which is filed with the Law Society at 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 though, one unique to them.