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.

The Law Society has also been issuing Notices to the Profession to update the profession on developments related to COVID-19:

If you have a question that does not appear here, please email Communications@lsbc.org.


Frequently Asked Questions

  • New
  • Practice management
  • Trust accounting and financial
  • PLTC and articling
  • Business operations
  • Court operations
New

While an across-the-board reduction in practice fees would impact on our ability to fulfill our regulatory responsibilities to the public interest, the Benchers approved allocating up to $3 million from the Law Society’s reserves to fund targeted fee relief for law firms (including sole practitioners) who are facing significant economic hardship due to the pandemic. In order to determine how to best allocate these funds to those who have the greatest need, the Law Society is gathering information from designated representatives using a fee relief form that may be accessed via the Member Portal.

More information about the specific details about the program will be available once we have concluded the information gathering process.

The program is meant to assist law firms that are facing significant economic hardship due to the pandemic. “Law firms”, which are defined as a legal entity or combination of legal entities carrying on the practice of law, and includes sole practitioners, may apply for the fee relief program.

Government, in-house counsel, or law corporations that provide legal services solely as part of another law firm, are not eligible to apply.

Other financial relief programs provided by the government are also available to law firms and lawyers. See a list of resources here.

Practice management

The limitations for commencing a civil or family action, proceeding, claim or appeal in BC courts have been suspended as of March 26, 2020 and will continue to be suspended until the date that the state of emergency regarding COVID-19 expires or is cancelled. The Ministerial Order that was made under s.9 of the Emergency Program Act 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.

The Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General has issued ministerial orders regarding virtual execution of wills and virtual execution of powers of attorney and representation agreements. The ministerial orders apply as of May 19, 2020 and remain in effect until the date on which the last extension of the state of emergency expires or is cancelled. Further information on the process and requirements for remote execution of wills are set out in Ministerial Order M161, while the process and requirements for remote execution of POAs and representation agreements are set out in Ministerial Order M162.

Yes. The Court of Appeal for British Columbia, the Supreme Court of British Columbia and the Provincial Court of British Columbia issued notices on March 20 and March 27, 2020 that set out a process for commissioning affidavits in urgent cases where it is not possible, or is medically unsafe, for the deponent of an affidavit to attend physically before a commissioner. The process can be found in the directives linked below:

Court of Appeal for 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 court’s notice, 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.

Lawyers appearing in urgent family matters before the Provincial Court should also note that the Provincial Court has issued an announcement that materials filed in support of urgent family hearing requests need not be sworn or affirmed, due to closures of registry operations as a result of COVID-19. For details, read the full announcement

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.

BC Registries, which administers and supports registrations of all businesses, not-for-profit societies, cooperatives, personal property and manufactured homes in BC, will accept the virtually signed affidavits that are commissioned following a process similar to that of the courts and which is outlined here.

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.

This is a stressful time. Lawyers may wish to access resources such as LifeWorks, an employee assistance program funded by the Law Society that offers free, confidential, 24/7 support for articled students, lawyers and their immediate families. In addition, the Lawyers Assistance Program remains open and available to offer peer support and referral services over the phone or through other means.

A list of resources is available here.

Yes, it will — assuming the indemnity fee is paid. Nothing changes in your indemnity coverage as a result of being laid off or terminated. As long as any claim or potential claim you report falls within the terms of the policy, you will be covered. You will find information about what is covered and what is not here.

Also, you must notify Member Services (memberinfo@lsbc.org) at the Law Society about your change of practice circumstances. They will help and advise you of requirements under the Rules, and arrange for you to pay the second installment of the indemnity fee, if necessary.

Practice advisors continue to be available to answer questions about practice and professional obligations:

 

Trust accounting and financial

Lawyers have the following options:

  • Lawyers can scan or fax the information to their bookkeeper, who can send back the completed accounting records. Ensure you have custody and control of your original records at all times.
  • Lawyers can complete the recordkeeping function on their own. We recommend that you read the Trust Accounting Handbook which provides guidance on how to keep basic records that comply with the rules.
  • Lawyers may wish to consider maintaining accounting records on the cloud so the information can be accessed anywhere at any time. The Law Society has a Cloud Computing Checklist that raises many of the issues that you will face.

Even if you did not use your trust account, you will need to retain a copy of your monthly trust bank statement as a supporting document for the trust reconciliation.

Yes, but you must ensure:

  • You obtain written confirmation of the details of the transfer from the financial institution or the remitter of the funds within two banking days; and
  • The confirmation includes the following information, which must be recorded in the trust book of entry:
    1. The date of the transaction;
    2. The amount;
    3. The source of funds received (i.e. the payer’s name);
    4. The form of funds received; and
    5. The client’s name or client number.

A reminder: be sure to follow-up on each third-party deposit to determine whether the funds received were in the form of cash. 

It is possible to withdraw trust funds electronically, if the following conditions are met:

  • Your law firm uses a commercial banking platform that requires two individuals:
    • A person other than the lawyer authorizing the online transaction, who uses his or her password to enter data into the online system, and
    • The lawyer authorizing the online transaction and who uses his or her own password.
  • You have completed and signed the Electronic Funds Transfer requisition form before any data is entered into the electronic funds transfer system.
  • No later than the next business day, the transfer system produces a confirmation form from the financial institution.
  • No later than the following business day, the lawyer:
    • produces a printed copy of the confirmation;
    • compares the printed copy of the confirmation against the signed EFT requisition to verify the funds were withdrawn as specified;
    • indicates the name of the client, the subject matter of the file and the file number on the printed copy of the confirmation; and
    • signs and dates the confirmation.

The Electronic Funds Transfer requisition form may be signed using an electronic signature.

The confirmation must be retained as supporting documentation for the transaction and should be kept with your accounting records so that they are easily accessible.

A lawyer who is a sole practitioner with no other staff is permitted to personally use one password to enter the data into the online banking platform and use another password to enter data to authorize the transaction.

Do not disclose your password to anyone or allow anyone else to use it.

Lawyers are permitted to make deposits into a trust account via ATM. We recommend that you ask your financial institution to set the bank card to “deposit only” to ensure funds are not inadvertently withdrawn.

Please ensure that you:

  • Write the client name, client number, the source and form of the funds received on the ATM receipt, which you may also want to record on a deposit slip in your deposit book; and
  • Retain the receipt as part of your accounting records, which can be done by stapling the ATM receipt into the deposit book in chronological order to ensure a proper audit trail.

Note that while ATM deposits into trust are permitted, lawyers are not permitted to make withdrawals from the trust account via ATM.

Many financial institutions offer their clients an app to download on to their mobile device so that cheques can be easily deposited from the comfort of your own home. The app will usually require you to take a picture of the front and back of the cheque and confirm the details of your deposit.

Another option is to use a remote deposit capture (RDC) scanner. Lawyers can quickly scan the front and back images of the cheque to be deposited and the funds are deposited straight into your trust account. You should consider this option if you have many cheques to be deposited. Speak to your financial institution for more details.

You may also want to consider asking the payer to send the funds to you electronically so that you do not handle cheques or other paper-based instruments.

At least one of the individuals who signs a trust cheque must be a practising lawyer. If you are finding it difficult to issue trust cheques, consider withdrawing trust funds electronically as permitted under Rule 3-64.1.

While the Law Society’s rules are silent about the use of electronic signatures on trust cheques, your financial institution may or may not permit electronic signatures.

To ensure that your trust cheques are not returned, contact your financial institution to determine whether it is permitted or consider withdrawing trust funds electronically as permitted under Rule 3-64.1.

Yes. However, the use of a lawyer’s electronic signature should not be delegated to anyone. Be cautious to avoid the risks associated with electronic signatures.

Yes. The rules require only that the date of preparation be recorded on monthly trust reconciliations, and they do not require a signature. However, in order to ensure that trust funds are properly accounted for, we strongly encourage that you review, sign and date each monthly trust reconciliation.

Yes. In order to deliver a bill to your client before withdrawing funds from trust, you have the following options:

  • Mail the bill to the client at the client’s last known address;
  • Deliver the bill personally to the client;
  • Fax the bill to the client at the client’s last known electronic fax number; or
  • Email the bill to the client at the client’s last known email address.

Remember to indicate the method of delivery in the letter and retain supporting documents (e.g. fax confirmation or email).

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.

If you have any further questions regarding trust accounting, contact the Trust Assurance Department via:

Email at trustaccounting@lsbc.org
Phone at 604.697.5810
Fax at 604.646.5917

PLTC and articling

In order to strike a balance between safely and securely administering PLTC exams and preserving call dates, PLTC has determined that current or remedial students with imminent call dates (until the end of July) may have their exams administered remotely. For these students, their Part I and II exams are scheduled for May 19 and 22. Exams for all other students will be deferred to a later session.

Interviewing assessments will be conducted remotely, and not in person. Again, priority will be given to students with imminent call dates and remedial students for whom the interviewing assessment is their only remaining PLTC requirement. All other students will be required to defer the interviewing assessment to a later session.

In light of the continuing provincial pandemic response, the next PLTC session is being deferred to June 8 and will be conducted using a learning management system and virtual classrooms. Each class will have the same instructor/student ratio, and students will be expected to attend classes as if they were occurring in person. The licensing examinations are scheduled to take place on August 4 and 7.

We will be communicating directly with all Summer session students in early May to give out more detailed information about the logistics of the session.  

If you have further questions, email pltc@lsbc.org.

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.

The Law Society is moving forward with in-person interviewing assessments for PLTC students in locations in Vancouver, Victoria and Kamloops with safety protocols in place. The qualification examinations will be held remotely on August 4 and August 7, with a remote proctoring service provider (Monitor EDU) and the software Examsoft.

For more information, contact the Professional Legal Training Course:

Business operations

To ensure that the work of the Tribunal continues in light of the COVID-19 health emergency, President Craig Ferris, QC has issued a Practice Direction that gives guidance on conducting hearings and reviews using written submissions, oral hearing by teleconference and oral hearing by video conference as alternatives to in-person hearings. The Direction will remain in effect until further notice. Further information is available in the full Practice Direction.

Yes, but to assist lawyers with options for fulfilling their CPD requirements, the Law Society has compiled the following list of free online programs.

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. 

Court operations

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 Court of Appeal has issued a notice that it is expanding operations by accepting filings in all matters and, as of May 4, 2020, the Court of Appeal will begin hearing all appeals, including those that are not urgent, by videoconferencing using the Zoom platform, unless otherwise directed. Litigants in appeals must complete the Court Proceedings by Video Conference form 14 days in advance of their hearing. Also beginning May 4, all Court of Appeal chambers applications and registrar’s appointments will be heard by teleconference or in writing. For new chambers applications or appointments, litigants must file and serve materials required under the Court of Appeal Act, Court of Appeal Rules, Criminal Code, the Court of Appeal Criminal Rules and the court’s Civil and Criminal Practice Directives. Further information is available in the Court of Appeal’s full updated notice.

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