Small Firm Practice Course begins in January

The Law Society’s new, on-line Small Firm Practice Course will be in place on January 1, 2007 to help sole practitioners and lawyers practising in small firms to better manage their practices.

The course will be mandatory for some lawyers, but will also serve as a useful tool for those practising in any size law firm who would like to take the course on a voluntary basis.

The Law Society developed the course on the recommendation of the Lawyer Education Task Force to provide greater assistance to sole practitioners and small-firm lawyers. Outside the major urban centres, sole and small firm practitioners provide the vast majority of legal services in the province and face unique challenges. The Task Force recognizes the importance of those lawyers and believes the course will help ensure the success of their practices.

The Small Firm Practice Course is free, self-paced and accessible on-line at all times, regardless of location. It is designed with self-testing components that allow lawyers to measure their own progress and understanding of key practice issues, such as management, trust accounting and various pitfalls of practice.

Each course module provides additional resources and further reading that lawyers can use to assist them in their practices and to improve their understanding of course content, including links to practice management resources, forms, precedents and contacts for practice advice. There is also an optional course forum where members can discuss practice issues with other sole practitioners and small firm lawyers.

How do lawyers register to take the course?

The course is available on the Law Society’s website at www.lawsociety.bc.ca. You must log in through the member log in link on the right-hand side of the website using your surname and Law Society member number in order to get credit for any courses you complete.

Who must take the course?

Rules 3-18.1 and 3-18.2 govern the Small Firm Practice Course. A firm of four lawyers or fewer constitutes a small firm for the purposes of this course. As of January 1, 2007, the following lawyers must take the course:

  • anyone moving into small firm practice after January 1, 2007;
  • anyone who begins or returns to practising in a small firm after not having done so in BC for the previous three years;
  • anyone who is already practising in a small firm and becomes a signatory on a trust account after not having been a signatory on a trust account in BC for the previous three years;
  • independent contractors, even if such lawyers are space-sharing with a firm of lawyers (see the exception for independent contractors below); and
  • anyone directed by the Practice Standards, Credentials or Discipline Committees to take the course.
Who doesn’t have to take the course?

The following lawyers do not have to take the course:

  • anyone who is practising law as an independent contractor or lawyers in similar situations who are associated with a firm of more than four lawyers and the firm maintains trust accounting and other financial records on that lawyer’s behalf; and
  • a lawyer who, as a member of a governing body in another Canadian jurisdiction, has practised in a small firm and been a signatory on a trust account during the previous three years, and who has not been asked to take the course by the Practice Standards Committee.
What about lawyers who have been practising solo or in a small firm prior to January 1, 2007?

Those lawyers are exempt from taking the course if they are already practising in a small firm as of January 1, 2007, unless they have a break in practising solo or with a small firm in BC that lasts longer than three years after January 1, 2007, or unless after January 1, 2007 they become a signatory on a trust account after not having been one in BC for the previous three years.

Does the course include an exam?

Members who are required to take the course must complete the self-testing components for each of the course modules. Examinees will have unlimited attempts to complete the testing components. If a question is answered incorrectly lawyers will be presented with another opportunity through a differently worded question to demonstrate their understanding of the content. All of the testing components must be successfully completed in order to fulfil the requirement of taking the course.

Within what time frame must the course be completed?

The course takes approximately six to eight hours to complete. Lawyers who must take it have six months to complete it from the time they became a sole practitioner or join a small firm. Lawyers already practising at small firms who become signatories on trust accounts — after not having done so in BC for the previous three years — will have six months to complete the course from the time they become signatories on trust accounts.

What if the course is not completed within the six-month time limit?

The Rules prescribe that anyone who is required to take the course and does not complete it within six months has failed to meet a minimum standard of practice and may be referred to the Discipline Committee.

What about lawyers who do not have to take the course but decide to do so on a voluntary basis?

They will not be required to complete it once they begin. They can simply use the course as a resource to help strengthen their own law practices. The Task Force believes all lawyers and articled students can benefit from taking the course regardless of the size of the firm where they practice.

Who can be contacted for more information?

If you are unsure about whether you must complete the Small Firm Practice Course, contact the Law Society’s Member Services Department at memberinfo@lsbc.org or 604 605 5311.

For information on course content, contact Kensi Gounden, Practice Standards Counsel, at kgounden@lsbc.org or 604 605-5321 or Debra DeGaust, Legal Assistant, Practice Standards, at ddegaust@lsbc.org or 604 443-5718.