Task force: fee programs benefit public, profession

A Law Society task force has concluded that the benefits provided to the profession and the public by the Special Compensation Fund fee and Trust Administration Fee outweigh any hardship on lawyers who represent low-income clients.

The Law Society Fees and Low Income Client Task Force was established in response to a resolution at the September 2006 annual general meeting by Dugald Christie and Bruce Fraser, QC. They submitted that the two fees cause undue hardship for lawyers who have little or no trust account activity and that these lawyers tend to be the ones who most often represent low-income clients. The resolution asked that the fees be reduced or eliminated for lawyers with little or no trust activity. Prior to the meeting, the resolution was withdrawn and the Benchers agreed to examine the issues raised by it.

The task force, chaired by Cariboo County Bencher William Jackson, issued a consultation paper and surveyed the profession earlier this year to determine the impact of the two fees.

While lawyers who represent low-income clients may have few trust transactions, the task force noted that not all lawyers with little trust account activity represent low-income clients. The task force also noted that the Special Compensation Fund fee supports a fund established to protect the reputation as a whole and not individual lawyers.

Eliminating the fee for lawyers representing low-income clients would also eliminate it for more than 20 per cent of practising lawyers who do not maintain trust accounts, the report noted.

The task force also noted that the flat-rate Trust Administration Fee is intended to fund the Trust Assurance Program, which applies to all lawyers regardless of the amount in their trust accounts.

The Benchers accepted the task force’s conclusions and asked the Access to Justice Committee to determine what other steps the society might pursue to assist low-income clients and the lawyers who serve them.