Your Practice Advisor
Felicia S. Folk, the Law Society's Practice Advisor, is available to discuss your practice concerns. All communications between Ms. Folk and lawyers are strictly confidential, except in cases of trust funds shortages.
You are invited to call her at (604) 669-2533 or toll-free in B.C. 1-800-903-5300 at any time, or write to her at the Law Society office.
Enduring powers of attorney
The Attorney General announced on June 24 that the repeal of section 8 of the Power of Attorney Act, which was to have taken place on September 5, 2000, has been postponed for one year. The result is that enduring powers of attorney can now be made until September 5, 2001. Valid enduring powers of attorney made before that date will remain in effect. After that date, enduring powers of attorney will be replaced by representation agreements, as provided by the adult guardianship legislation.
You should monitor the possibility of other amendments to this legislation, which raises many questions and concerns for lawyers.
All lawyers practising in this area should become familiar with the adult guardianship legislation, which consists of the Adult Guardianship Act, Representation Agreement Act, Health Care (Consent) and Care Facility (Admission) Act, and Public Guardian and Trustee Act, as well as the regulations made pursuant to those Acts. The materials from the February, 2000, Adult Guardianship – New Legislation CLE course serve as a good introduction.You may also visit the Public Trustee's website at www.trustee.bc.ca.
Talking about money
Are you discussing your fee with a prospective client immediately and up front? Or are you reluctant to discuss the fee? Are you afraid of rejection when the client hears how much the legal work will cost?
Clients want and have a right to know the basis on which you will arrive at the fee.
Discuss your charges and your billing procedures. If you charge by the hour, tell the client whether you will be billing for phone calls and travel time. Do you bill for postage, long-distance charges and photocopies? If you are offering a flat fee for some services, indicate what is covered in the package price.
If you are charging the client a contingent fee, you will strengthen your relationship with your client by an open and frank discussion of what costs are covered by your fee, and whether and when you expect disbursements to be paid by the client. You should also explain the risks for you and for the client, in particular the risk that the client may be ordered to pay costs to the other side if unsuccessful. Remember that a contingent fee agreement must be in writing.
If you ask for a retainer, explain how a retainer is used. Often clients do not understand the concept.
Fees are often a major worry for clients. When you have openly discussed the fees, the client will be better able to focus on the substantive matters — as will you. Clients who do not understand the fee structure tend to get angry when billed, delay paying, complain about your work or blame you for their losses.
A potential client needs to know whether it is worthwhile to proceed at all — and if your client can't afford you, you should both know that before you do the work. You are practising your profession not only to provide a public service but also as a means of livelihood. Unless you generate the dollars necessary to fund the activity, you will not be in business.
Upfront discussion of fees gives you better options. You may decide to waive the fee, or work for less than you normally charge. You may decide to refer a client elsewhere, to ask someone else in your office who bills at a lower rate to handle the case, or simply to turn down the work and take your children to the park. You will not be happy if it is your client who suddenly initiates his or her pro bono status because you did not reach a clear understanding about fees. Talking about fees is important not only for the client but also for you.
Emergency calls to the Supreme Court Registry
A reminder to lawyers that there is a cell number for emergency after-hour calls to the Vancouver Supreme Court civil registry (833-4642), which replaces the previous pager system. The number is for urgent applications (such as injunctions and restraining orders) that cannot wait to be heard on the next scheduled chambers day. A Deputy District Registrar is on call 24 hours a day to receive these applications and forward them to the on-call judge.