Small Firm Task Force consultation
Law Society looks at several initiatives to help small firm lawyers
The Law Society’s Small Firm Task Force, chaired by Kootenay Bencher Bruce LeRose, is working on measures to help sole and small firm practitioners and invites your input.
The Law Society recognizes that while sole and small firm practitioners form the backbone of the legal profession throughout the province, they also face unique challenges making this type of practice increasingly less attractive to lawyers.
Nearly 35% of the private bar work as sole practitioners and another 23% are in firms of two to five lawyers. Outside the major urban centres, solo and small-firm lawyers provide the vast majority of legal services in the province.
In addition, younger lawyers are more likely to choose large firm practice, meaning that older lawyers are over-represented among small firms. This raises concerns about whether the solo and small-firm bar is renewing itself, particularly in the less-populated areas of the province. Today, 31% of sole practitioners are between 55 and 65 years old compared with 18% in firms of five or more lawyers.
The Law Society wants to support small firm practice and through the Small Firm Task Force is looking at several initiatives to assist solo and small firm lawyers and to alleviate the many pressures they face. The Task Force plans to submit formal recommendations to the Benchers by year end. The six initiatives are:
Technology support initiative: The Task Force is reviewing two possible ways in which the Law Society can provide lawyers with assistance in the acquisition and efficient use of appropriate computer technology. One approach would make Law Society staff available to visit law firms and provide advice on technology. The other approach would involve the Law Society identifying consultants to provide those services. Either would have budget implications that the Task Force and Law Society would have to consider.
Bookkeeper support initiative: During earlier consultations, the Task Force identified the importance of an effective bookkeeper in successful law firms. Many lawyers, however, reported that it is often difficult to identify competent bookkeepers and to work with them effectively. The Task Force developed and published a comprehensive guide to recruiting and working with a bookkeeper: see the Practice Support/Articles section of the Law Society website.
Shared articles initiative: The Task Force endorses continued support of the online shared articles registry that was developed by the BC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association with support and advice from Law Society staff and the two BC-based law schools: see www.cba.org/BC/Initiatives/articles/default.aspx.. The Task Force also proposes working with the Credentials Committee, which has jurisdiction over articling, to develop a program to encourage students to article throughout the province in order to facilitate shared articles.
Practice locums initiative: Many lawyers working on their own report difficulties taking time off, even for brief vacations, because there is no one to provide essential services to their clients. This initiative would provide effective backup for small firm practitioners as well as opportunities for lawyers who want to work on a part-time or occasional basis as locums. The proposed program would likely include a mechanism for avoiding conflicts and an on-line registry of lawyers in need of locums and those wanting to provide the service.
Succession and emergency planning initiative: The Task Force proposes a comprehensive guide to succession and emergency planning be published by the Law Society. This would include effective succession planning and planning for other emergencies, such as medical, natural disasters, theft or death.
Certified cheque initiative: During consultations, the Task Force heard from many lawyers who objected, on both professional and work-related grounds, to having to provide a certified cheque to another lawyer. The Task Force noted that under Chapter 11, Rule 8 of the Professional Conduct Handbook, a lawyer’s trust cheque constitutes an undertaking to pay and ought to be accepted as such by other lawyers. The Task Force proposes working with the Ethics Committee on a potential amendment to the Professional Conduct Handbook to clarify when it is not appropriate to demand a certified cheque from another lawyer.
The Small Firm Task Force welcomes comments from the profession. If you have suggestions or want further information about the initiatives proposed by the Task Force, please contact Alan Treleaven, Director of Education and Practice, at email@example.com or Bruce LeRose at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Law Society resources for sole and small firm practitioners
The Law Society has many resources to assist all members of the profession. Some may be of particular interest to sole and small-firm practitioners.
Small Firm Practice Course: The Benchers have approved a Small Firm Practice Course to be developed and implemented by January 1, 2007. It will be a free, on-line course for lawyers, students and law firm staff. It will provide information on setting up and operating a practice, avoiding pitfalls and developing a business plan. The core modules of the course will be mandatory for lawyers establishing solo practices or starting in small firms on or after January 1, 2007. Lawyers already in sole or small firm practice as of that date will be exempt, but are welcome to use the resource. The course will involve self-paced learning on the lawyer’s own time and will have no pass-fail or grading components.
Practice advice: Free telephone and email advice on ethics, practice questions and technology.
Web resources: The Practice Support section of the Law Society’s website contains a wide variety of precedents and articles ranging from standard form letters to information on solicitors’ liens.
Benchers’ Bulletin: The Benchers’ Bulletin regularly contains helpful tips from the Law Society’s practice advice team.
Practice Checklists Manual: Checklists, divided into eight practice areas, offer valuable assistance to lawyers and are available in the Practice Support section of the Law Society’s website.
PLTC materials: The course materials, which are on the Law Society’s website in Licensing & Membership / PLTC, provide a comprehensive summary of law and procedure in the most common practice areas.
CanLII: The Law Society of BC, along with all Canadian law societies, supports the national online law library CanLII (www.canlii.org), which provides free access to legislation and case law.
Additional resources are available through other organizations, including the BC Courthouse Library Society, the Canadian Bar Association, the Continuing Legal Education Society, the Trial Lawyers Association of BC and local and county bar associations.