The Law Society will be posting answers to frequently asked questions (below) as issues develop. The situation remains fluid and the Law Society’s response may evolve.  

Please check the website regularly for updates. If you have a question that does not appear here, please email Communications@lsbc.org


Video statement on practice management during COVID-19.


Video statement on action the Law Society is taking to help you.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • New
  • Practice management
  • PLTC and articling
  • Business operations

Quick links

COVID-19 updates (Notices to the Profession)

Commissioning affidavits and information from the courts (March 20, 2020 Notice to the Profession)March 23, 2020

Law Society's COVID-19 response (March 17, 2020 Notice to the Professon)

COVID-19 preparedness at the Law Society (March 13, 2020 Highlight)

Disaster planning:

The courts:

 

New

The Land Title and Survey Authority has issued Practice Bulletin 01-20 Process for Remote Witnessing of Affidavits for use in Land Title Applications, in effect immediately to provide direction about remote witnessing of affidavits in support of land title applications (including section 49) during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawyers who remotely witness affidavits must first review the Law Society’s directions on best practices for using video-conferencing when providing legal advice or services (see FAQs below), and must incorporate a statement in the jurat of the affidavit confirming this process was used and the best practices followed.

Where lawyers reasonably determine that circumstances require virtual commissioning of an affidavit and follow the procedure set out in the LTSA Practice Bulletin, the Law Society will consider the requirement that the deponent be physically present before the lawyers, set out in Appendix A 1(a) of the Code of Professional Conduct, to have been met.

The Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General has made a Ministerial Order under s.9 of the Emergency Program Act that suspends limitation periods and time periods for commencing a civil or family action, proceeding, claim or appeal in BC courts. The suspension is effective as of March 26, 2020 and continues until the date that the declaration of a state of emergency regarding COVID-19 expires or is cancelled. The Ministerial Order also provides that other bodies, including tribunals, that have statutory powers of decision may waive, suspend or extend a mandatory time period relating to the exercise of their powers. The full Ministerial Order may be read here.

On March 26, 2020, The Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and the Provincial Court expanded the process for commissioning affidavits where it is not possible, or is medically unsafe, for the deponent to attend before a commissioner to apply to affidavits for use in all Court Proceedings. Links to the full Notices may be found below:

Court of Appeal of British Columbia

Supreme Court of British Columbia

Provincial Court of British Columbia

Where lawyers reasonably determine that circumstances require virtual commissioning of an affidavit and follow the procedure in the Courts notices, the Law Society will consider the requirement that the deponent be physically present before the lawyers, set out in Appendix A 1(a) of the Code of Professional Conduct, to have been met.

Practice management

Lawyers can still file Notices of Civil Claim electronically using Court Services Online. To access the Court Services Online platform, you will need to be a registered user. If you are not already a registered user, you may register for an account, by visiting BCOnLine and clicking the blue button on the top right-hand side of the web page.

Supreme Court of British Columbia

Supreme Court of British Columbia registries are no longer providing in-person registry services during the suspension of the court’s regular operations. Documents for requests for an urgent hearing where a person is unable to use the electronic process established by the court, or for regular filings that are not defined as essential and urgent, may be submitted to the registry by using one of the following methods:

For civil or family matters:

  • E-filing using Court Services Online;
  • Fax filing at a registry designated as a fax filing registry;
  • Mailing to any Supreme Court registry;
  • Using the secure drop box available from 9 am to 4 pm Monday to Friday at Supreme Court registries.

For criminal matters:

  • Mailing to any Supreme Court registry;
  • Faxing to a criminal registry;
  • Using the secure drop box available at Supreme Court registries.

Further information, including contact details for court registries, may be found here.

Provincial Court of British Columbia

The Provincial Court of British Columbia has suspended regular operations at all of its locations and that some court locations have been closed. Urgent matters will proceed in “Hub Court” locations. For more information about Hub locations and the procedures for determining urgent matters, read the Provincial Court’s notice to the profession and public.

The provincial government has designated the work of lawyers and paralegals to be essential services. In the current provincial state of emergency, essential service providers are permitted to remain open, but they must follow the orders and guidance provided by the Provincial Health Officer to ensure safe operations and reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19. Further information and the full list of what qualifies as an essential service in the context of the Province’s response to COVID-19 may be found on the Government of BC website.

Some lawyers have asked for clarification about whether the process for virtual commissioning set out by the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court of British Columbia and the Provincial Court may be used to commission affidavits or take solemn declarations for other purposes than filing at the Courts.

The Law Society has stated that where lawyers reasonably determine that circumstances require virtual commissioning of an affidavit, and they follow the procedure in the Notices, we will consider the requirement set out in Appendix A 1(a) of the Code of Professional Conduct, that the deponent be physically present before the lawyer, to be met.

Other entities that receive affidavits or solemn declarations have to consider whether they have the authority to accept affidavits or solemn declarations that are commissioned using video technology. Lawyers will need to determine whether the particular body for whom the affidavit or solemn declaration is prepared will accept such evidence sworn or taken using video technology, and under what circumstances.  The Law Society has been actively engaged in encouraging entities to adopt the same approach as the Courts and us, and we are working with the provincial government to issue its own general statement regarding the use of virtual commissioning.

There are two methods for verifying a client’s identity that do not require a face-to-face meeting with the client – the dual process method or using information in a client’s credit file. Lawyers should also consider whether they may be able to rely upon the previous verification by another person (for example, a real estate agent) where permitted under the rules.

In unique circumstances where lawyers are unable to avail themselves of any other verification method, the Law Society will take a reasonable approach in its compliance activity if a lawyer verifies identity of a client located in Canada by using video-conferencing technology. Lawyers who verify a client’s identification using video conference technology should be able to demonstrate that they:

  • are reasonably satisfied that the government issued identification is valid and current;
  • were able to compare the image in the government issued identification with the client to be reasonably satisfied that it is the same person;
  • record (with the applicable date) the method used to verify the client’s identification;
  • treat the transaction as a high risk transaction and continue to monitor the business relationship as a high risk transaction; and
  • document the efforts that were made to verify the client’s identity in accordance with the existing rules and the reasons why they were unable to verify the client’s identity in accordance with the existing rules.

When using video conferencing for the provision of legal advice or services, lawyers should:

  • Confirm the client’s consent to proceed in this manner.
  • Ask that all individuals in the remote location introduce themselves.
  • Ensure there is no one else at the remote location who may be improperly influencing the client.
  • Make sure that audio and video feeds are stable and that you can hear and see all parties.
  • Where identification is produced to support verification of identity, ensure that a copy of the document (front and back) is sent to you in advance of the online meeting and that when it is produced that the entire document is visible and legible.
  • Determine how to provide the client with copies of the document executed remotely.
  • Confirm your client’s understanding about the documents they are executing and provide adequate opportunity for them to ask questions during the video conference.
  • Maintain detailed records including: date, start and end time, method of communication, identity of all present, and minutes of content of meeting.

Public health officials recommend social distancing as a best practice for individuals who have to meet in person. Lawyers should consider conducting routine meetings with clients by telephone or using video-conferencing options, such as Zoom, Skype, Facetime or other similar platforms. If lawyers elect to hold a meeting virtually that would normally be required to be held in-person, they should consider and mitigate the heightened risk presented by proceeding outside the normal course.

Lawyers who use alternatives to in-person communication also will need to keep in mind their obligations under BC Code rule 3.2-1. Commentary [3] to the rule sets out that what is effective communication will vary depending on the nature of the retainer, the needs and sophistication of the client and the need for the client to make fully informed decisions and provide instructions.

In the context of COVID-19, if lawyers choose to change their means of client communication, they should consider notifying clients about the alternative means of communication that they intend to use, as soon as practicable. Further information about best practices in using alternative means of communication may be found in the questions and answers below.

Lawyers should continue to consult the relevant legislation and case law that govern capacity when determining whether they have the ability to adequately assess a person’s capacity through remote means such as video-conferencing or telephone.

If video-conferencing or telephone is used as the exclusive means of communicating with a client, lawyers should also assess whether there is a risk that the client may be subject to undue influence or duress.

Use of electronic signatures is a substantive legal issue and context specific. Lawyers are encouraged to review the Electronic Transactions Act and any other applicable legislation to determine if electronic signatures are permitted.

In some situations, it may not be possible to avoid meeting clients or others. If you must meet a client, steps to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 recommended by the BC Centre for Disease Control and others include frequent hand washing, increased environmental cleaning, maintaining one to two metres of physical or social distancing from others, and encouraging employees or others to stay at home if they are sick or at risk of serious illness.

Further information about best practices for infection control, cleaning, and maintaining public health in workplaces may be found at:

WorkSafeBC – Staying safe at work and Resources and updates

BC Centre for Disease Control – Health information for Employers & Businesses and Infection Control

Government of Canada – COVID-19: Being Prepared

Law firms and lawyers who employ other lawyers and staff must comply with provincial workplace legislation and regulations, including the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation. Under the Regulation, lawyers who are employers must take reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of their employees.

The health minister and provincial health officer have asked employers to excuse staff for sick leave without requiring a doctor’s note, if the employee is ill or required to self-isolate. In addition, law firms and lawyers should do what they can to implement:

  • Remote work options where possible
  • Social distancing protocols, including telephone and video conferencing as much as possible
  • Enhanced cleaning of offices and workstations, particularly in areas that are touched frequently (door knobs, handles, railings, etc.)
  • Access to clean, well-stocked handwashing facilities
  • Offering alcohol-based hand sanitizers, where appropriate
  • Providing tissues and encouraging their use.

Additional resources and guidance on workplace policies in the COVID-19 context are available at:

WorkSafeBC:

BC Centre for Disease Control – Health information for Employers & Businesses

Government of Canada – Employer Responsibilities and Employee Rights

As the situation evolves, everyone should follow the advice and guidance of the BC Centre for Disease Control and WorkSafeBC.

Lawyers should contact the Lawyers Indemnity Fund for answer to questions about professional liability in the context of COVID-19.

Practice advisors continue to be available to answer questions about practice and professional obligations. Contact information for practice advisors may be found on the About Practice Advice page.

If lawyers have disaster or business continuity plans in place for their workplaces, they should review these now and consider to what extent the plan or plans should be implemented at this time. Lawyers who do not have such plans in place, or whose existing plans do not adequately address the concerns raised by COVID-19, should consider the following resources and recommended planning steps:

Other options for managing practice interruptions in the context of COVID-19 include:

Working from home:
Lawyers who choose to work remotely from home as part of their plans should consider whether all the key information they require is readily accessible and current. This includes client contact information, client files, staff and service provider contact information, bank account information, and passwords for personal and staff voicemail, computers and emails. They should also consider how they will keep client information confidential from family members or others, communicate with clients, secure and receive office deliveries, and continue to delegate and supervise other staff.

If other staff will also be working remotely, lawyers must ensure that confidentiality is able to be maintained.

Lawyers should ensure that they have made reasonable security arrangements against all risks of loss, destruction, and unauthorized access, use or disclosure of their records. Take steps to put into place technological, physical, and organizational safeguards specific to working from home for you and your staff.

Illness or absence:
Lawyers who are unable to continue manage their practice due to illness should have a Continuing Power of Attorney for Property including Law Practice in place. They should also consider what specific tasks are impacted if staff become ill and are unable to attend the office, in order to ensure that coverage is provided so that clients are not prejudiced.

Ongoing communication:
Lawyers who are changing their business hours, implementing alternative means of communication, anticipate there will be delays to communication, or are making other changes to firm operations should communicate this information to clients and staff as soon as practicable. Lawyers and paralegals may consider using email updates, notices on their websites, or other means, as appropriate, based on the needs of their clients and staff.

This is a stressful time. Lawyers may wish to access LifeWorks. LifeWorks is an employee assistance program funded by the Law Society that offers free, confidential, 24/7 support – including for issues related to mental, physical or social well-being of articled students, lawyers and their immediate families. Lawyers can obtain profession help and referrals for issues related to mental or physical health issues that they are experiencing. Further information about LifeWorks is available on our website.

PLTC and articling

Classes are suspended until further notice, but assignments and assessments that may be completed remotely are proceeding as scheduled.

Students should check their online portal account for updates and further information.

As of today, it is expected that then next PLTC session will commence in the first week of June, and not in May as planned. However, because the situation regarding COVID-19 is rapidly evolving, the Law Society will continue to monitor and follow the advice of the provincial health officer and review its plans accordingly. In the event that the session cannot proceed as scheduled, the Law Society will proactively inform all articled students, principals and members of the legal profession.

This is a stressful time. Articled students are eligible to access LifeWorks. LifeWorks is an employee assistance program funded by the Law Society that offers free, confidential, 24/7 support – including for issues related to mental, physical or social well-being of articled students. Articled students can obtain professional help and referrals for issues related to mental or physical health issues that they are experiencing. Further information about LifeWorks is available on our website.

Business operations

Yes, but the Law Society has transitioned to work at home protocols for employees until further notice.

As of Monday, March 16, there is no public access to the Law Society’s offices. All public events have been postponed or cancelled until further notice.

Practice advisors continue to be available to answer questions about practice and professional obligations. Contact information for practice advisors may be found on the About Practice Advice page on the Law Society website.

Some applicants for enrolment, call and admission, and reinstatement are finding it difficult to meet in person with a notary public or commissioner to make the required solemn declaration. Until further notice, the Law Society will accept application forms that have been sworn using video technology. The application should include a notation that the declaration was sworn in such a manner.

If the applicant is known to the commissioner, the commissioner will not be required to obtain photo identification. In all other situations, the applicant must show the commissioner current and valid government-issued photo identification. While connected via video technology, the commissioner will administer the oath, the applicant will swear or affirm the truth of the facts, and the commissioner will watch the applicant sign his or her name. The applicant will then send the signed application to the commissioner electronically for the commissioner to sign,

Video technology is also permitted for administering the Barristers and Solicitors oath. While connected via video technology, any practising lawyer can administer the oath to a candidate. Once the candidate has sworn or affirmed the oath, the practising lawyer may sign the Law Society form provided by the Law Society,

If you have further questions regarding the swearing of Law Society application forms or administering the Barristers and Solicitors oath, please email the Member Services department at membersinfo@lsbc.org.

The Law Society’s Professional Conduct department will be continuing to process complaints during this period. If you wish to make a complaint about a lawyer, please consult our website. If you have a response deadline that you are unable to meet due to current circumstance, please email the staff member you have been dealing with on the matter to request an extension. 

The Law Society would like to assist lawyers and law firms during this uncertain time by extending the Trust Report filing requirement for law firms with the period ending December 31, 2019. Firms will now have until April 30, 2020 to submit their Trust Report.

The Ministry of the Attorney General is responsible for courts administration. Further information may be found on the Ministry’s court services website.

Each court is posting notices, advisories and updates. For more information, you may also wish to check the website for each court:

Provincial Court of BC – www.provincialcourt.bc.ca/
BC Supreme Court – www.bccourts.ca/supreme_court/
BC Court of Appeal – www.bccourts.ca/Court_of_Appeal/
Federal Court – www.fct-cf.gc.ca/en/pages/law-and-practice/notices
Supreme Court of Canada – www.scc-csc.ca