Effective regulation … so much more than discipline
by Bruce A. LeRose, QC
Slightly more than eight years ago, I became a Bencher of the Law Society of British Columbia. To say that there is a steep learning curve when one becomes a Bencher is an understatement. What one quickly realizes is that the Law Society is a multi-dimensional, multi-purpose and multi-faceted organization.
Over the course of my presidency, I plan to speak to as many stakeholders as possible about the Law Society, the many services it provides and how it demonstrates it is effectively and transparently protecting the public interest.
The Law Society strives to be a model regulator and does so in many more ways than just receiving complaints and disciplining lawyers.
The Law Society is responsible for admissions to our profession and does this through its credentialing program – one of the most comprehensive in all of North America. Part of this admission and credentialing program includes the operation of what is effectively an on-site college that delivers the Professional Legal Training Course.
This Law Society also administers the mandatory Continuing Professional Development initiative, the first in Canada, now recognized nationwide as the template for similar programs in other law societies.
The Practice Advice Program offers the services of five highly skilled and experienced practice advisors who assist lawyers to serve the public effectively by providing advice and support on ethical and practice management issues.
Practice standards and competency is another core function of the Law Society, supporting lawyers with educational resources and law office management tools, conducting practice reviews of lawyers whose competency is in question, recommending and monitoring remedial programs and overseeing the continuing operation and enhancement of our approved online lawyer support programs.
The Law Society operates a highly successful in-house custodianship program that ensures that the public is protected through the appointment of the Law Society as custodian to manage and, where appropriate, wind-up legal practices in an effective and efficient manner when members cannot continue to practise due to illness, death, disciplinary action or other reasons.
Another core function is managing reports of people posing as lawyers and providing legal services. When the Law Society receives a report of unauthorized practice, it will investigate and, where appropriate and in the public interest, seek remedies to restrict or eliminate this risk to the public and the profession, including seeking court injunctions.
The trust assurance program is another in-house program that is designed to assure the public that funds entrusted to lawyers will be used as instructed and accounted for properly. Through annual filings and a random audit program which sees all law firms audited at least once every six years, the Law Society ensures that lawyers manage trust funds in accordance with our trust requirements.
The Law Society also operates an insurance company. The Lawyers Insurance Fund (LIF) provides professional liability insurance for BC lawyers that offers reasonable limits of coverage and exceptional service at premiums that compare very favourably to other jurisdictions. In addition to coverage for negligent acts by lawyers, LIF protects the public in the very unhappy event of defalcations and misappropriation of funds.
The organization and, in particular the Benchers, are well-served by the work of our policy group, our own “think-tank” that monitors the issues of the day and forecasts those yet to come. Working with the advisory committees, the group assists the Benchers with policy and other decisions that have shaped the Law Society’s stand on everything from access to justice to cloud computing. The policy group is a large part of the reason the Law Society is recognized as a leader in the regulatory arena.
And, of course, there is the Law Society’s overwhelming commitment to regulating professional conduct by enforcing the ethical, professional and competency standards set for the profession. This is accomplished through effectively and efficiently investigating and evaluating concerns and complaints about lawyer conduct, and recommending action when necessary. This core function utilizes more than 40% of all Law Society resources, which demonstrates, to me at least, its significance.
On top of all this is the substantial work that Law Society staff, volunteers and Benchers take on at the Federation of Law Societies level in developing national standards such as the Model Code. This work is further enhanced by extensive monitoring of international developments through involvement in groups such as the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, the International Bar Association and the International Institute of Law Association Chief Executives.
All of the above is delivered by a highly educated, truly motivated and deeply caring staff who do their level best to carry out our mandate and serve the public and the membership in a courteous, professional manner. For this, lawyers and, most importantly, the public should feel fortunate to have the benefit of their hard work.
Having said all this, the Law Society and the Benchers are committed to continuous improvement in regulation and governance.
While CEO Tim McGee pursues a number of initiatives designed to enhance Law Society operations, the Benchers have committed to a new, three-year strategic plan. There are three principal goals in the three-year plan: the Law Society will be a more innovative and effective professional regulatory body; the public will have better access to legal services; and the public will have greater confidence in the administration of justice and the rule of law.
Among the many initiatives identified in the plan, the Benchers have agreed that it is time to undertake a thorough review of our governance processes. It’s been over 17 years since the Benchers last completed a governance review, something that all good organizations should do regularly. The governance review will be an opportunity for the Benchers to step up and take responsibility for modernizing our roles and approaches to setting policy, assessing the composition of the Bencher group and considering the committees for which we are responsible.
Finally, on a personal note, I simply want to say that becoming president of the Law Society is for me a great honour and privilege. This organization has been described to me by people outside the province as being the “gold standard” for professional regulation. My intent is to ensure that reputation persists through the ongoing dedication of Benchers and staff to finding ways to better serve the public interest.