Ensuring “best practices” in professional regulation

This issue of the Benchers’ Bulletin recaps the Law Society’s top operational priorities for 2006. Another important plan is underway this year that will position the Society to more efficiently and effectively resolve complaints, complete timely investigations and prosecute discipline cases.

“Our complaints and discipline work is among the most important and challenging we perform at the Law Society and at the very heart of our statutory mandate to protect the public interest,” says Law Society CEO Tim McGee. “For this reason, it is critical that we pursue a ‘best practices’ approach in all facets of these operations.”

To better deliver on the commitment, the Law Society is introducing a new organizational structure for its Professional Regulation staff and developing a number of new operational strategies.

The need for change

Why are changes needed? The answer can be found in part by looking at the reality of the complaints process today. The Law Society now handles, on average, 1,500 complaints a year. Experience has shown that approximately 90% of these complaints are service related, outside the Law Society’s jurisdiction or not matters appropriate for its professional discipline process. It follows that the sooner and more reliably staff are able to categorize complaints, the better they can resolve service complaints, close out complaints that do not belong and refer others for further action. In turn, the Law Society can focus attention on investigating and prosecuting the much smaller number of complaints that require discipline.

To meet this challenge, the Society is reorganizing the current Professional Regulation group into two new units, each with a specific and focused mandate. The reorganization will not result in increased staffing levels, but rather will better define roles and responsibilities for all existing positions and any vacancies that need to be filled.

A new Public Response Group – complaint intake and resolution

A new Public Response Group will handle all complaints at the point of intake and identify complaints that are service related and can be resolved informally or closed and complaints that should be investigated further as a disciplinary matter.

The group will be equipped with the right tools and mix of skills to perform this important “triage” function. The skill set of the staff team will be expanded as needed to ensure it includes a range of legal, mediation and customer service skills — all suited to addressing the vast majority of complaints the Law Society receives. The Society will develop a new, internal online case management system for logging, prioritizing and tracking all complaints.

A Prosecutions Group – investigation and counsel services

A Prosecutions Group is also being organized to handle the complaints that require further investigation and referral to the Discipline Committee. The primary responsibility of the Prosecutions Group will be to deliver high quality counsel services in the discipline area with a focus on consistency, thoroughness and fairness.

The Prosecutions Group will be managed and organized like a small in-house counsel firm, building on existing expertise to ensure the Law Society has the appropriate combination of senior and junior counsel expertise and experience as well as dedicated investigative, paralegal and administrative support. A strong consultative relationship between the Public Response Group and the Prosecutions Group will ensure that referrals are handled efficiently and that case preparation is coordinated smoothly.

A new position — that of Chief Legal Officer — will provide strong and focused leadership for the two new units and related functions. The Chief Legal Officer will have overall responsibility for all matters of professional regulation and will work to ensure that the Law Society achieves its goal of identifying and implementing best practices in all aspects of the complaints and discipline area.

These initiatives will be implemented over the course of the year. In taking theses steps, the Law Society will build on its experience, take advantage of new technology and meet future expectations. These initiatives also help to ensure that, in the core area of professional regulation, the Law Society continues to serve the public interest and the profession in a manner that is accessible, responsive and transparent.