Lawyers discuss practice fee increase, Juricert initiative at AGM

Brian Johnson and Negar Azmudah at the AGM in Vancouver raise questions and concerns about Juricert. Their resolution opposing the Juricert model was rejected by the meeting (7:110). A 2001 practice fee of $1,000, recommended by the Benchers, was approved by a majority of those at the meeting (115:40).

Practice fee approved

Lawyers at the September 22 Annual Meeting approved a 2001 practice fee of $1,401.66. This includes: 1) a Law Society fee of $1,000, up $95 (10.5%) over 2000; 2) a CBA fee of $376.66 (senior) or $238.16 (junior), up 9.8% and 7.9% respectively over 2000; and 3) a $25 Advocate subscription.

[The Benchers in October set the 2001 base insurance assessment at $1,500, the same as in 2000. The Special Compensation Fund fee has not yet been set.]

The Benchers had recommended an increase in the Law Society fee so as to maintain programs without drawing down General Fund reserves as had been done in previous years and also to allow for a small contingency in the 2001 budget. Key areas of increased expenditures in 2001 include funding of law library services and technological initiatives undertaken on behalf of B.C. lawyers.

At the AGM, Kamloops Bencher Rob McDiarmid, Q.C. spoke against the fee resolution, noting that, while the matter had been vigorously debated at the Benchers' table, there was no unanimity on the principles behind a large fee increase. He said he believed the Law Society had already grown too rapidly, that services could be provided more efficiently and that staff were working on projects they are not statutorily required to do. "I would rather see individual members of the profession take responsibility for many of the things that are being done collectively," he noted. Mr. McDiarmid further expressed concern about looking to the strength of the Law Society insurance program to justify higher fees in other programs.

Prince George Bencher Richard Gibbs noted that many General Fund programs indirectly benefit the insurance program and it was appropriate to consider the combined impact of Law Society fees. He said it was not prudent to draw down General Fund reserves any further to keep the fee low and he expressed confidence in the work of the Society. "We have a good staff, doing good work, delivering beneficial programs," he said. "We are unquestionably the leading law society in Canada, and we are doing it at the second lowest combined cost." In his view, any program cuts should be debated at the Benchers' table, not at an annual general meeting. Mr. Gibbs also noted that defeating the fee resolution would mean holding another general meeting to consider the issue.*

Vancouver lawyer Peter Hall raised questions about the cost of new initiatives, in particular multidisciplinary practice. He also wished to know if there was still opportunity for debate within the profession as to whether MDPs would be permitted. President Karl Warner, Q.C. noted that the Benchers had made no final decisions on MDPs and there was still opportunity to raise concerns.

Member resolution on Juricert defeated

Members at the meeting defeated a resolution on Juricert brought forward by Brian Johnson and Negar Azmudah of Vancouver.

In speaking to his motion, Mr. Johnson expressed concern that it may be beyond the Law Society's mandate to incorporate Juricert as a for-profit company, that the program model was wrong and that there was a lack of transparency in the process by which Juricert selected its suppliers such as PrivateExpress.

"Technology is a very dynamic thing. There are large technological risks that people take every day. That's the realm of private enterprise," Mr. Johnson said. "If a given technology is going to fail, and something else becomes standard, I don't believe the Law Society should be placing any bets for itself, its members or the public."

President Karl Warner, Q.C. noted that a number of other Canadian law societies had already provided funding for the development of Juricert and that this was a joint project of the law societies through the Federation of Law Societies, structured on legal advice. All documentation from Juricert is available to the profession, other than documents that might be harmful to the legitimate intellectual property or business interests of suppliers.

He noted that Juricert would allow law societies as regulators to continue in their traditional role of authenticating the professional status of lawyers in the electronic age, which would prove better, faster and cheaper. This had to be done properly. "Trust and integrity are what we represent to the people and we've go to make damn sure we hold that dear," Mr. Warner said.

The Johnson/Azmudah resolution was defeated (7:110).

* Note: The Law Society Rules provide that the Benchers' fee resolution to the AGM is amendable at the meeting, on notice by a member 40 days in advance of the meeting (as with all member resolutions to the meeting.) As there was no notice of an amendment submitted, defeat of the Benchers' fee resolution would mean the fee would have to be set at a subsequent general meeting.