by Bruce LeRose
The Law Society’s Small Firm Task Force, chaired by Kootenay Bencher Bruce LeRose, is working on supporting and strengthening sole and small firm practice. Solo and small firms are the backbone of the profession. Sole practitioners are approximately 35 per cent of the private Bar and lawyers in two to five lawyer firms account for 23 per cent, providing the vast majority of legal services outside urban centres.
Younger lawyers do not enter sole and small firm practice as frequently as larger firms, particularly outside urban areas. There are concerns about whether the sole and small firm Bar is renewing itself, especially in less populated areas.
Many sole and small firm practitioners face pressures relating to isolation, overheads, practice management and technology, and a local shortage of lawyers and articling students.
On July 14, the Benchers adopted Task Force recommendations to develop six proposals for Bencher consideration:
#1 Technology Support: Acquisition and efficient use of technology are essential. An effective support program would assist firms to be more productive. The Task Force is identifying proposals, including costing options.
#2 Bookkeeper Support: The Task Force is developing an on-line guide for recruiting and working with bookkeepers. Finding and working effectively with a qualified bookkeeper are essential.
#3 Articling Students: Solo and small firms, particularly outside Vancouver and Victoria, have difficulty recruiting students. Some firms would benefit from sharing a student. The Task Force is developing proposals for promoting articling in small firms and facilitating shared articles.
#4 Practice Locums: Many sole and small firm lawyers cannot take time off because no one is available to serve their clients. Burnout is a risk. The Task Force is developing a locums program to enable lawyers to reduce their time commitment, and provide opportunities for others to work part-time.
#5 Succession and Emergency Planning: Succession and emergency planning are critically important. The Task Force is developing a comprehensive guide to succession and emergency planning.
#6 Certified Cheques: Many lawyers object to providing certified cheques to other lawyers, on the principle of professionalism and because of administrative and financial burdens. A lawyer’s cheque is an undertaking to pay, and can be accepted as such by other lawyers. The Task Force is working with the Ethics Committee to consider amendments to the Professional Conduct Handbook to clarify when it is inappropriate to demand a certified cheque.
Other Programs: The Law Society currently offers several practice support resources, including the Practice Advice service, web and paper based information (on practice management, ethics and insurance), PLTC Practice Materials (free on the website), CanLII (a free, on-line national virtual law library), and the Small Firm Practice Course (to be implemented by January 2007, on-line and free of charge).
Next Steps: The Task Force is consulting widely as it develops detailed proposals for Bencher consideration by December 2006. To provide input, please contact Bruce LeRose, 250-368-3327 / email@example.com, or Alan Treleaven, 604-605-5354 / firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bruce LeRose is the Bencher for Kootenay County, and Chair of the Small Firm Task Force. Bruce practises law with Thompson, LeRose & Brown, in Trail, B.C.
This article was published in the October 2006 issue of BarTalk. © 2006 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.