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2019 Annual Report Law Society of Alberta

Message from the President

"It was my pleasure and an honour to serve as the President of the Law Society of Alberta this past year. I had the opportunity to work with a very intelligent and engaged Bencher table and a very supportive and professional staff. I am grateful to have been able to serve the public interest alongside all of them."

A Message from Elizabeth J. Osler

As my first official year in the role of Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, 2019 was an exciting time both for me personally and the Law Society as a whole. I would like to sincerely thank my predecessor, Don Thompson, QC, for his dedicated leadership of the Law Society from 1999 to 2018.

In 2019, we continued to move our strategic objectives forward, while focusing on building increased operational collaboration internally. To name just a few of our major initiatives in 2019, we implemented Rule changes in response to the anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing model rules; we conducted a survey of the articling system in Alberta to gather feedback from students, principals and mentors; we developed a Model Respectful Workplace Policy for lawyers to adapt and use within their practice; and we formed the Bencher Election Task Force in preparation for the upcoming 2020 Bencher election to enhance the diversity of candidates and increase voter turnout.

Read more about these major initiatives under the Year in Review section below.

Working with the Board, we closed out the last year of our 2017-2019 Strategic Plan, and the Board approved a new five-year Strategic Plan (2020-2024) in December 2019. We are excited about our new strategic goals and look forward to working with the Board and our key stakeholders to accomplish them over the coming years.

The Law Society benefits from the dedicated work the Benchers, staff and our leadership teams and I am grateful for their support in 2019.

I look forward to continuing all of the great work currently underway at the Law Society to ensure that we serve the public through the regulation and support of the profession.

Elizabeth J. Osler, Chief Executive Officer & Executive Director

Who We Are

About the Law Society

The Law Society of Alberta regulates the legal profession in the public interest by promoting and enforcing a high standard of professional and ethical conduct by Alberta lawyers.

We derive our authority from the Legal Profession Act and set standards through the Code of Conduct and the Rules of the Law Society of Alberta.

Mission

Serve the public interest by promoting a high standard of legal services and professional conduct through the governance and regulation of an independent legal profession and upholding the Rule of Law.

Vision

The Law Society will be recognized as a model for protecting the public interest and preserving the fundamental principles of justice through an independently regulated and trusted legal profession.

VALUES

  • Integrity – honest and ethical behaviour.
  • Transparency – open and clear processes and communications.
  • Fairness – equitable treatment of people.
  • Competency – best practices, high standards and the pursuit of excellence.
  • Independence – independent and independently regulated legal profession.
  • Respect – inclusion, diversity and equity in the profession and in the Law Society.

Strategic goals

The Law Society’s 2017 – 2019 Strategic Plan provided direction and focus to the board and the entire organization, including a framework for decision making, resource allocation and priority setting. The Strategic Plan guided our activities to achieve four main goals:

  • Model Regulator: Regulate to protect the public interest by promoting excellence, high ethical standards, diversity and equity within the legal profession.
  • Stakeholder Confidence: Maintain the confidence of the public, lawyers and other key stakeholders.
  • Access to Justice and the Rule of Law: Promote and support access to justice and the rule of law for Albertans.
  • Governance and Culture: Create a responsive and innovative governance and management culture that positions the law Society as a leader in the regulation of professions.

Board members in 2019

The Law Society is governed by a 24-member Board. Of the 24 Board members, also called Benchers, 20 are lawyers elected by the profession, and four are public representatives (Lay Benchers) appointed by the Alberta Minister of Justice and Solicitor General.

The Board provides strategic direction, focusing on goals which demonstrate our values and help achieve our vision and mission.

  • Rob Armstrong, QC, President
  • Kent Teskey, QC, President-Elect
  • Ryan D. Anderson
  • Arman Chak
  • Corie Flett
  • Bill Hendsbee
  • Cal Johnson, QC
  • Linda Long, QC
  • Jim Lutz
  • Bud Melnyk
  • Walter Pavlic, QC
  • Corinne Petersen (appointed February 2019)
  • Stacy Petriuk
  • Robert Philp, QC
  • Kathleen Ryan, QC
  • Darlene W. Scott, QC
  • Deanna Steblyk
  • Margaret Unsworth, QC
  • Ken Warren, QC
  • Nathan Whitling
  • Elizabeth Hak; Lay Bencher
  • Barbara McKinley; Lay Bencher
  • Cora Voyageur; Lay Bencher
  • Louise Wasylenko: Lay Bencher
  • Don Cranston, QC (until February 2019)
2019 Board Members along with Elizabeth J. Osler, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, and Cori Ghitter, Deputy Executive Director and Director, Professionalism and Policy

Task Forces and Committees

Major committees, task forces and liaisons conduct governance work associated with our core regulatory functions. Learn more about our committees and task forces here.

Board Committees

Audit and Finance Committee | Executive Committee | Nominating Committee | Pension Committee | Policy Committee | Professional Responsibility Committee

Adjudication Committees

Appeal Committee | Assurance Fund Adjudications (Finance) Committee | Conduct Committee | Credentials and Education Committee | Practice Review Committee | Trust Safety Committee

Task Forces and Advisory Committees

Bencher Election Task Force | Indigenous Advisory Committee

Year in Review

New Leadership

On January 1, 2019, we saw new leadership begin as Elizabeth J. Osler assumed the role of Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director. Ms. Osler is the first female leader in the history of the Law Society, making her appointment a historical milestone for the organization.

Bencher Election Task Force

With the upcoming Bencher Election in October 2020, a Bencher Election Task Force was created to facilitate this process. The stated mandate of the Bencher Election Task Force is to develop:

  • strategies for increasing number and diversity of candidates running for Bencher.
  • strategies for increasing voter engagement and turnout for Bencher election.
  • recommendations for Bencher candidate campaign materials.
  • recommendations for Bencher candidate education and orientation.
  • recommendations regarding how election results are shared with candidates and the profession.

The task force is comprised of seven members, including Benchers, lawyer volunteers and staff support.

ANTI-MONEY LAUNDERING RULE CHANGES

In 2019, changes were introduced to the Rules of the Law Society around client identification and verification, the receipt of cash and the permitted use of lawyers’ trust accounts.

This change was born out of the ongoing fight that the Federation of Law Societies of Canada has been waging against money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities within the legal profession. The stricter rules around client identification and verification address the conduct of lawyers and reduce the risk of assisting anyone to commit an illegal act. By adhering to these fundamental principles, lawyers help prevent crime and maintain public trust in the justice system.

The rollout of these rule changes involved developing resources for lawyers, several in-person sessions in various locations around Alberta and two live webinars.

Review on articling

In conjunction with the Law Societies of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, we conducted two surveys to better understand the current state of the articling system across the three provinces.

One survey was geared towards articling students and new lawyers (articled in the last five years) to better understand the types of training and mentorship they were receiving, any issues related to harassment or discrimination in the workplace and whether they felt prepared to practise as 21st century lawyers. We heard from 549 student and new lawyer respondents for this survey, resulting in a 23 per cent response rate. A key finding revealed that nearly one in three (32 per cent) reported experiencing discrimination or harassment during recruitment and/or articling.

The second survey targeted recruiters, principals and mentors in the legal profession, asking mirrored questions to the first survey. Full details from the report are on our website.

Respectful Workplace Model Policy

In response to the results of the articling survey, we launched a Respectful Workplace Model Policy for members of the legal profession to adapt and use within their practices.

In addition to the model policy, we began developing guides for employees and employers to further understand the model policy. The employee guide explains how the policy protects employees when they experience discrimination, harassment and violence in the workplace. It also provides additional resources for employees to seek assistance. The employer guide explains how to implement the model policy and why it’s important.

These guides will be released in 2020.

APPROVED LEGAL SERVICES PROVIDERS PROGRAM

To further improve access to legal services in Alberta, we implemented Rule changes that allowed for the regulation of pro bono organizations as Approved Legal Services Providers (ALSPs). The program launched in July 2019 and was designed to create a clear process for established and new pro bono organizations to provide their legal services to the public, in turn increasing access for those facing financial, geographical, cultural or social barriers.

Organizations now apply to become listed as an approved provider on the Law Society website. This way, employees, clients, volunteers or funders of pro bono organizations can have greater confidence in their legal services. Lawyers who are otherwise exempt from insurance coverage are also now covered for volunteer legal services provided through any ALSP.

Development of Strategic Plan and Regulatory Objectives

Throughout 2019, the Board and Law Society staff developed and approved two key documents: the 2020-2024 Strategic Plan and the Regulatory Objectives of the Law Society of Alberta.

The 2020-2024 Strategic Plan provides strategic direction for the organization over the next five years. The Regulatory Objectives are new for the Law Society and describe how the Law Society will fulfil its core purpose of protecting and upholding the public interest in the delivery of legal services.

The Numbers

Financial reports

The Law Society uses external auditors to produce financial statements annually. Our 2019 financial statements can be found on our website.

Law Society Statistics

We are committed to providing meaningful engagement opportunities with the public, profession and legal student body. In 2019, we conducted a total of 55 outreach events across the organization, including in-person and online formats.

Lawyer Statistics

As of December 31, 2019, there were 10,396 active lawyers and 2,305 inactive lawyers. Both statistics show a small increase over the 2018 numbers.

Age and Gender Breakdowns

Of the total number of active lawyers in Alberta, 40 per cent are female, 58 per cent are male, one per cent are transgender and one per cent prefer not to disclose. Please note that the Law Society is committed to an inclusive reporting process that allows for statistically significant year-over-year reporting.

The number of male and female lawyers in both firm and in-house settings remains relatively consistent and equal for those who have 25 years of service or less. However, in the senior cohort of those with over 25 years of experience, males outnumber females by a ratio of over three to one. In the graph below, the percentages over each bar show the portion of total active lawyers that group represents.

Articling Students

As of December 31, 2019, 525 students were actively articling in Alberta. This reflects a slight increase over 2018, making this year the highest number of articling students in over a decade.

525 active articling students in total
*Internationally trained lawyers include those Canadians who have studied abroad.

conduct statistics

National Discipline Standards

We are currently meeting 84 per cent of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada’s National Discipline Standards. Due to the requirements of the Legal Profession Act, we are not able to meet 100 per cent of the current standards without amendments to the legislation.

Issues concerning lawyers in Alberta

Of the general inquiries and concerns about Alberta lawyers received in 2019, 799 were referred to Early Intervention and 322 matters were reviewed by Conduct.

When a lawyer fails to fulfil the administrative requirements imposed by the Law Society through Rules, the lawyer will be administratively suspended until they have fulfilled their obligations. Due to this kind of non-compliance, 134 lawyers were administratively suspended in 2019. The majority of these lawyers have resolved their error and have since been reinstated.

*134 Administrative Suspensions

Definitions

Hearing

When a lawyer is directed to hearing, the matter is heard by a Hearing Committee. If a lawyer is found guilty, penalties can be imposed including a reprimand, fine, suspension, and disbarment.

  • Fined: When a lawyer is required to pay a financial penalty to the Law Society of Alberta.
  • Reprimand: A formal expression of reproach, either written or oral, issued by the Hearing Committee, which becomes part of the lawyer’s conduct record.
  • Suspension: A lawyer’s membership in the Law Society of Alberta is suspended and they are prohibited to practise law in Alberta for a specific period.
  • Disbarred: The lawyer’s membership in the Law Society of Alberta is terminated and they can no longer practise law in Alberta.

Resignation

When a lawyer applying to resign is the subject of current complaints and discipline proceedings, the lawyer will have their resignation application heard by a panel of three Benchers.

  • Resigned (s.32): A lawyer who faces conduct proceedings but is given permission by a Resignation Committee to resign due to certain mitigating factors or circumstances, or a lawyer who seeks to resign for other reasons (e.g. relocation, retirement).
  • Resigned (s. 61): A lawyer who faces serious conduct proceedings which would likely give rise to a penalty of disbarment by a Hearing Committee but is instead given permission by a Resignation Committee to resign. This is equal to a disbarment.

Contact Us

The Law Society of Alberta | 700, 333 – 11th Avenue SW | Calgary, AB T2R 1L9 lawsociety.ab.ca | feedback@lawsociety.ab.ca | 403.229.4700 or toll free 1.800.661.9003