Law Society program update

The Law Society operates more than 20 programs, grouped into six operational areas: Credentials and Education, Insurance, Policy and Legal Services, Professional Regulation, Executive Support and Corporate Services.

Throughout the year, department heads provide reports to the Benchers outlining program goals and key performance measures. In April, the Benchers heard from the Lawyers Insurance Fund. Below is a summary of the report.

Lawyers Insurance Fund

Stability remains the hallmark of the Law Society’s Lawyers Insurance Fund (LIF), as staff claims counsel consistently draw on the breadth and depth of their practice experience and sound judgment to achieve excellent results, Director of Insurance Su Forbes, QC explained to the Benchers at their April meeting.

Forbes shared some highlights from 2007 with the Benchers. The number and frequency of reports is down slightly from 2006, although the number of insured members has risen by two per cent. More significantly, the past few years have seen an increase in the amount of successful “repair missions” achieved by the program, with the highest rate demonstrated in 2007. Fully 17 per cent of all files closed last year were the result of successfully restoring the client to his or her original position. This yields a positive result for all concerned, as a claim is avoided at minimal cost to the profession.

Another highlight from 2007 was LIF’s publication of a comprehensive guide for lawyers called Beat the clock, which is a proactive risk management tool. Forbes said, “we have the ability to measure the effectiveness of this initiative and, in time, we expect it will result in fewer reports of missed deadlines.”

Forbes guided the Benchers through data collected by LIF staff related to claims. “We analyze information by area of practice to provide advice to lawyers on how they can avoid claims in the specific areas in which they practice,” she said. In relation to the causes of claims in Part A — professional liability insurance — Forbes told the Benchers that lawyers’ “simple oversights, as a cause of claims, consistently tops the charts.”

Lawyers who have reported claims often have advice for their colleagues on how to avoid getting into similar situations. LIF has been collecting that advice for two years and Forbes shared some of it with the Benchers: “We received a number of responses along the lines of ‘stick to your area of expertise.’” Forbes quoted another lawyer who said, “careful notes are key to covering where the client has forgotten why things have been done a certain way.” Another common suggestion “is to confirm instructions — tell the client what you will do, and what you won’t do, in an engagement letter.”

Forbes reported to the Benchers that in 2007 Part B — trust protection coverage, which protects members of the public — saw seven claims paid on behalf of four different lawyers, totaling approximately $39,000. Four claims were denied because the lawyer either did not misappropriate property or did not do so in his or her capacity as a lawyer, resulting in the claim falling outside the coverage offered by Part B.

Forbes shared with the Benchers some of the comments on evaluation forms from Part B claimants. One claimant said, “I really appreciated the fact that you guys dealt with this so I could get back what I gave. In the future I won’t be afraid to get a lawyer. Your help was appreciated.”

Forbes explained to the Benchers that one of her overall goals was to enchance cost-effectiveness by increasing in-house defence. “We are now defending 42 per cent of all suits in-house.” She added that LIF has seen a 70 per cent increase in the amount of in-house defence in the Provincial Court, and that the growth in that area has emerged since the small claims jurisdiction increased to $25,000 in 2005.

Forbes also told the Benchers that LIF claims counsel are often both creative and practical in resolving claims through negotiated settlements resulting in little or no cost to the insurance program, while also finding a satisfactory solution for the client. The bottom line of Forbes’ presentation was that LIF continues to effectively manage claims in accordance with the program’s mission, which is to protect the profession and the public from the risks associated with the practice of law by providing high quality professional liability and defalcation insurance.

Beat the clock: one year later

beat the clock coverBeat the clock – Timely Lessons from 1,600 Lawyers was sent to every insured lawyer in BC with the May 2007 issue of the Benchers’ Bulletin.

The first such guide published in North America, it provides more than 70 risk management tips to help lawyers prevent missed deadlines, save lawyers and the Law Society’s Lawyers Insurance Fund substantial costs over a multi-year period and promote better legal service to BC’s public. The content provides both practical guidance and a high quality analysis of complex legal processes and procedures. 

Positive early results

An online survey showed the guide has hit its mark, as it is being used by a broad spectrum of lawyers across different practice areas, including sole practitioners, small and large firm lawyers, as well as their articled students and legal assistants. The survey yielded the following results:

  • Nearly 90 per cent of lawyers surveyed indicated they have either made changes to how they practise or plan to in the future.
  • Respondents ranked the guide an average 4.5 on a scale of one to five, with five at the high end.
Readers report benefits

Survey feedback included the following comments:

The booklet is so refreshingly useful that it is being granted a place amongst the important books that live behind my desk for easy access and which are referred to frequently.

I put Beat the clock in my “looks useful” pile and within an hour got a call involving an appeal limitation period. I couldn’t find the answer immediately in the statute I thought it was in, so opened the front cover of your publication, instantly found what I needed and was able to give prompt advice after checking it against the proper statute. Thanks for this useful publication!

I thought the publication was excellent, both in terms of the information contained and in the way in which it was laid out. It was user friendly. Now we just have to get everyone to read it!

Where to get it

The guide, along with the “Limitations and Deadlines Quick Reference List,” can be downloaded from the Lawyers Insurance Fund area of the Law Society website in the Managing Risk section.

A limited supply of additional hard copies are available by contacting Hazel Cords at or 604-605-5372.