Karl F. Warner, Q.C
And into 2001: what opportunities, what cost?
Budget priorities for 2001 will soon dominate the Benchers' discussion as we focus on the year ahead. As we encourage and help lawyers to deliver their services better, faster and cheaper, the Law Society recognizes the need to do the same. At the same time, the Law Society is looking beyond its traditional regulatory functions to better assist lawyers and their clients. We are mindful that changes in technology and practice mean new opportunities and challenges on the horizon.
Pivotal to planning a future course is deciding when and how the Law Society should take leadership. Which opportunities should we seize to benefit the profession as a whole? Which should we pass over? At what cost? I believe there are opportunities for the Law Society to help lawyers if we can commit the time, energy and resources
- Library resources are of paramount importance to lawyers and others working within the justice system. Through the Federation of Law Societies, our Law Society is working to enhance access to electronic library resources for all lawyers to create equality of cost, speed and access. Creation of such a "virtual library" will not be inexpensive since it will be some time before the ever-more-costly print materials we currently require through the courthouse libraries can all be made available through more efficient and effective electronic access.
- Helping lawyers in life-long learning is another positive step to positioning lawyers for the future of practice. The Law Society/CLE course voucher program underway this year is an initiative to deliver CLE programs more broadly with the help of Law Society funding. We cannot stop in our efforts to enhance continuing legal education for lawyers, but clearly there are costs attached to this commitment.
- The Law Society must help with faster and less costly electronic access to various agencies — government, judicial or otherwise — so that lawyers can work more efficiently and pass savings on to clients. In this spirit, the Law Society is now working towards becoming an electronic certification authority for B.C. lawyers and pioneering digital signature technology through a new company, Juricert: see page 1. The goal is to provide lawyers and clients with greater security online, and to ultimately allow for online registry filings and transactions. Pursuing this project will mean a financial commitment from the profession.
- An important regulatory initiative under consideration at the Law Society is reform of our trust assurance (Form 47) program respecting lawyers' trust accounts: see page 4. Our goal is to make the program more effective and less costly to the profession overall, of benefit to lawyers and the public. We will require the Law Society to devote resources upfront to build such a program model.
- I have spoken often over the past year about Law Society regulating differently (and perhaps de-regulating) to reflect new realities of the marketplace. One of the many opportunities is to reach disenfranchised consumers who may need and want lawyers' services, but at a lower cost. As just one example, the Law Society might allow lawyers to use legally trained paralegals much more innovatively to bring costs down. This would require a shift in philosophical and regulatory approach at the Law Society where our focus as regulator has been on the delivery of lawyers' services instead of the more encompassing legal services.
- The Law Society is also looking at encouraging lawyers to expand their legal businesses. Encouraging practice expansion, niche services and multi-disciplinary practice is one way to help lawyers build and maintain market-share.
- The Law Society is examining mediation models within our own complaints structure, so that lawyers feel less threatened and so that we reserve our more serious processes for those complaints that really require a heavier hand. While we must pursue all complaints with vigour, we must also differentiate among complaints earlier in the process and resolve them earlier to the greater satisfaction of everyone involved. This means a more discreet application of resources proportionate to the nature of the problem, and we have already taken steps to integrate mediation into our process: see page 8.
There are many more things that can be added to this list. The Law Society must embrace change if we are to assist B.C. lawyers in the 21st century marketplace. In technology especially, progress is measured in days and weeks, not years. Broadening the Law Society's focus and embarking on a course to preserve and enhance the lawyer's position as a key service provider will require some expanded resources, at least over the short term as we create more effective structures, first to parallel and then to replace the old ones. There is no choice but to move forward, so we must be up for the challenge.