Why does the Society require that law firms register before delivering legal services?
The context is Legal Services Regulation, which reflects the changing nature of legal services provision and is marked by a shift in regulatory focus from individual lawyers to law firms, where appropriate. Subregulation 4.6.1, for example, outlines a list of compliance obligations that fall to law firms (via the firm’s Designated Lawyer).
One benefit of having a law firm register is so the Society can identify and communicate with firms about their ongoing regulatory obligations. But the real benefit of law firm registration is the opportunity it affords for engagement: before a firm starts delivering legal services, Society staff meets with the Designated Lawyer (and other lawyers, as appropriate) to review the firm’s regulatory obligations and the various tools and resources available to them in building their practice and managing risk.
These conversations allow new firms the opportunity to seek practice advice, ethical guidance and other support, prior to being overtaken with the demands of running their practice. It is a means to set them up for success and create an open dialogue with their regulator.
What is a ‘law firm’ and how do I know if I need to register?
Law firm registration focuses on entities providing legal services to the public. If you are opening a ‘traditional’ sole practice or multiple lawyer firm, your firm will need to register with the Society. If your organization is not a traditional law practice but as part of its work provides legal services ‘outwardly’ (i.e., to a client other than the employer), you are considered to be operating as a law firm for the purposes of the Regulations and most likely, will need to register. For example, if a not-for-profit as part of its work advises clients on legal rights and obligations, it is a law firm and required to register.
If your firm was delivering legal services to the public prior to January 1, 2018, it was most likely registered automatically (see subregulation 4.8.4). In this case, your firm would have received a notice (pursuant to subregulation 4.8.4) advising of this and no action is required on your part.
If you were delivering legal services to the public prior to January 1, 2018, but your firm did not receive notification that it was automatically registered as of January 2, 2018, please contact the Society for clarification.
How do I register my firm and how long does it take?
The first step is to complete and submit the New Law Firm Registration form. It asks you to provide basic contact information and practice details, as well as an undertaking that you will not hold clients’ property in trust prior to being approved to do so. We also suggest you review the New Practice Checklist to determine what decisions and actions you need to take prior to opening your new practice.
After receiving your registration form, we will contact you to arrange a time to meet to discuss your firm’s practice plans, various tools and resources available to you, and your firm’s regulatory obligations. We require meeting with the firm’s Designated Lawyer, but other lawyers and staff in the practice are more than welcome to join in these conversations as appropriate.
After that meeting and once the Society is satisfied you have met your registration obligations, you will receive confirmation in writing that your firm is registered and confirmation of the details you provided.
We recommend submitting your registration form as early as possible and at least one month before you intend to start delivering legal services. We appreciate this isn’t possible in all circumstances – in which case, we will work with you and aim to accommodate your intended start date.
I didn’t know about the requirement and started delivering legal services to the public after January 2, 2018, but didn’t register my firm. What happens now?
Contact the Society so we can discuss and, if necessary, expedite your firm’s registration. The purpose of registration is to enable law firms to effectively carry out their obligations as law firms under the Legal Profession Act and the Regulations – there will be no sanction for failing to register unintentionally.
If a lawyer leaves or joins my firm, does it need to re-register?
Typically, no. A new law firm will be created when lawyers join together to create a new practice. A new firm might also form when two or more existing law firms combine to form a new practice, or when a single lawyer sets out to deliver legal services on their own.
In determining whether you’ve established a new law firm, a number of factors will be considered including whether there are changes to the prior law firm’s structure, accounts and Designated Lawyer. Society staff will make this determination in the event it is unclear.
One of the Designated Lawyer’s responsibilities is to keep the Society up to date on your firm’s contact and legal services personnel changes. If anyone delivering legal services joins or leaves your practice – or if your location or contact information change – please advise the Society and we will discuss whether new firm registration is required.