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Law Society of Alberta (LSA) president Kent Teskey

Alberta law society meeting sets 2021 practice fees, kickstarts work on competency issues

Thursday, December 10, 2020 @ 9:27 AM | By Ian Burns

The Law Society of Alberta (LSA) has adopted a fiscal plan for 2021 which it says considers the challenges posed by COVID-19 while balancing the need to meet its strategic objectives.

The budget and fiscal plan, which was adopted at the law society’s Dec. 3 board meeting, sets the 2021 practice fee at $2,340, a reduction of $260, or 10 per cent, below 2020 levels, which was achieved due to cost savings in 2020. The general fund, which covers the general operating costs of the regulatory function and other work of the law society, shows a budgeted deficit of approximately $250,000, but there would be a surplus in the capital budget, which funds investment in assets. The budget also proposed a reduction in expenses of $1.2 million, and contingency reserves are forecasted to be over $7.5 million by the end of fiscal 2021.

LSA president Kent Teskey

Law society president Kent Teskey said the plan is responsive to the fact that there are challenges in the profession as a result of COVID-19 but also reflects a need to be fiscally responsible.

“The reality is a lot of those savings came from things that we don’t do anymore — travel is very different. A lot of the costs of operating the law society have been different so we wanted to pass that back to our licensees to see where we go from there,” he said. “It takes a fair amount of work to bring a 10 per cent reduction while still delivering the same service levels.”

Teskey said the tension law societies have to wrestle with is what is the obligation of a regulator to provide financial support for the profession. He noted the LSA thinks direct financial aid is something a regulator shouldn’t be doing but targeted responses, such as a $1,000 subsidy to the bar admission program aimed at articling adopted this year, are acceptable.

“We don’t believe we should be doing broad and drastic cuts to licensing fees, because the reality is our public interest mandate requires the law society remain functional,” he said. “If we were to cut the practice fee in half nobody would complain, but it is not going to be the difference for a lawyer in terms of whether their practice could survive or not. I think we have struck the right balance on that issue and we will look for opportunities where we can provide support in the future.”

The law society’s lawyer competence committee (LCC) had been working with legal analyst Jordan Furlong on recommendations for future lawyer licensing and competency in Alberta, and its report was approved at the meeting. Work is now underway to prioritize the recommendations made, including resourcing, timelines for implementation and future engagement opportunities for the profession.

Teskey said benchers have adopted a framework which will guide them for the next five years to “really retool how we look at lawyer competency.”

“There are certain points in the career of a lawyer where we think some intervention is important. For example, if a lawyer decides to go out on their own and open a shop we think there are certain trainings or competencies that they need to be educated on to make sure they can succeed,” he said, “And what we are also considering is how we can introduce a different way for people to come into the profession which may not look like traditional articles, because we know from our previous survey work that articling has some pretty big structural issues with it.”

Benchers also formalized details on the Indigenous cultural competency training program, which was initially approved in October. The program, known as the Path (Alberta), will be launched in spring 2021 and lawyers will have 18 months from the launch date to complete the program. Lawyers who have taken the program through the Canadian Bar Association or other organizations or have completed the Indigenous Canada program at the University of Alberta, are exempt from taking the program, but are encouraged to do so because of its Alberta-centric content. Lawyers are also able to self-declare they already have the competencies offered by the Path program through previous knowledge or work experience.

Teskey said COVID-19 has been a very disruptive and tragic situation for all sectors of society but some opportunities have arisen, namely change in the justice sector.

“Regardless of what we do I think that COVID-19 will probably perpetuate a lot of transformational issues in the system generally, whether it is in the courts, the profession, or the regulation of the legal profession,” he said. “I think it is going to be the catalyst for a lot of things to come.”

Ken Warren was also chosen as president-elect to replace Darlene Scott, who will take over as president in February. The new year will also bring a new slate of benchers as a result of elections last month.

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