Benchers embrace recommendations of the Small Firm Task Force

At their January meeting, the Benchers approved the six initiatives recommended in the Small Firm Task Force report presented by Chair Bruce LeRose, QC.

Mr. LeRose noted that more than 50 per cent of the province’s private bar ­practises in firms comprised of four lawyers or fewer and that almost 35 per cent practise as sole practitioners. Mr. LeRose also pointed out that sole and small firm lawyers provide the vast majority of BC’s legal services outside the urban centres.

The Small Firm Task Force was formed in June 2005 to consult with sole and small firm practitioners and to make recommendations to the Benchers on how the Law Society might take meaningful steps to strengthen and support sole and small firm practice. Since then, the Task Force has consulted widely throughout the province and has received many suggestions from sole practitioners and small firm lawyers.

The Task Force report notes that many sole and small firm practitioners face pressures that arise through the nature of their practice structures, client bases and practice locations. Pressures highlighted in the report are: rising overhead costs, financing difficulties, practice management challenges, demands and costs of law firm technology, administrative burdens, access to legal research and continuing legal education resources, shortages of lawyers and articling students, and isolation.

The Small Firm Task Force’s six recommended initiatives are:

1. a technology support program, designed specifically for sole and small firm practitioners;

2. a comprehensive online guide to recruiting and working effectively with a bookkeeper;

3. a program to promote articling throughout the province, focusing on sole and small firm practitioners and facilitating shared articles;

4. a program to support and promote practice locums, including

  • a guide and checklists, paying special attention to operational effectiveness and conflicts management issues,
  • precedent locum agreements, with sample clauses that might address the needs of both lawyers, including remuneration and non-competition terms, and
  • an online registry of lawyers who are available to provide locum support;

5. assistance for lawyers in establishing law practice succession and emergency plans; and

6. a protocol providing the Law Society’s recommendations to the BC profession for handling certified cheques, with consideration and advice to be provided by the Ethics Committee.

The Small Firm Practice Course – early results

Early tracking of online activity since the Small Firm Practice Course went live on January 1, 2007 yields very encouraging results. Through February 26, 214 members have accessed the Small Firm Practice Course, generating more than 12,000 page views! Nearly half of the users were from Vancouver, almost one quarter were from the rest of the Lower Mainland, almost another quarter were from Vancouver Island, and the balance were divided between the interior and northern regions of BC (with four visitors from outside the province).

The Accounting System was the most popular module, followed by Trust Accounting Essentials. Delegation of Tasks & Supervision received the least number of visitors, followed by Client Screening.

The Small Firm Practice Course is free, self-paced and accessible online at all times, regardless of the user’s location. The Law Society developed the course on the recommendation of the Lawyer Education Task Force to support sole practitioners and lawyers practising in small firms.