Introducing the Management System Self-Assessment Tool

  1. Where does the pilot project fit into the bigger picture of our movement toward legal services regulation in Nova Scotia?
  2. Is the MSELP flexible enough to be relevant to all variations of legal practice in Nova Scotia?
  3. Is the proposed self-assessment process designed to be for regulatory compliance, with mandatory reporting required?
  4. What are the chances of a perfect self-assessment?
  5. Is it the same self-assessment tool for everyone?
  6. How will the pilot project unfold?
  7. What’s the best method for completing the self-assessment?
  8. Can you walk us through how the self-assessment process works?
  9. What’s the expected timeline for the pilot?
  10. Can you address how this is a ‘made in Nova Scotia’ approach, specific to legal entities in this province?
  11. During previous consultations, some lawyers expressed concerns about Nova Scotia developing a different approach from the rest of the Atlantic region or the country.
  12. The draft self-assessment tool is quite detailed and comprehensive. Is there any concern that lawyers will find it to be a daunting exercise?
  13. If it’s adopted, will the self-assessment process have other added value over the longer term?
  14. How will it help to ‘change the conversation’ between the public-interest regulator and the legal profession in Nova Scotia?  

Q&A with the Legal Services Support Officer 

A pilot project is now underway to develop a tool for lawyers to self assess their Management System for Ethical Legal Practice (MSELP), a central piece of the Society’s Transforming Regulation initiative. Throughout the fall and winter, a cross-section of legal entities across the province will test the draft self-assessment tool that has been developed. Find out the details from Jennifer Pink, the Society’s Legal Services Support Officer.  

Q: Where does the pilot project fit into the bigger picture of our movement toward legal services regulation in Nova Scotia?

A: Over recent years, we’ve engaged with the profession over legal services regulation. Through extensive consultation, the Society’s Council developed the 10 elements that comprise the MSELP. From there, we’ve developed a tool to help lawyers self assess the presence and depth of these elements in their practices. The idea we want to present is this: if your practice has systems to support all 10 elements, you have the infrastructure to deliver legal services in an ethically sound and competent way.

We’re looking to develop a self-assessment model that reflects unique practice structures, rather than providing everyone with the same list of regulatory obligations and requiring everyone to fulfil them in the same way. It’s a tool that embodies our movement to a risk-focused and Triple-P approach. It recognizes there are significant differences in delivery of legal services and client service, but also that there are core elements for all of us. To practise ethically and competently, everyone needs to have a certain infrastructure in place. We hope we’ve captured that but we’re looking for input.

Q: Is the MSELP flexible enough to be relevant to all variations of legal practice in Nova Scotia?

A: We recognize the vast differences in how legal services are provided but these 10 elements are relevant to  practices of all sizes and shapes. So we’re providing the ‘what’ but we’re leaving it up to the legal service providers to determine the ‘how’. These are the 10 elements central to an ethically sound legal practice; you determine how you achieve them.

Q: Is the proposed self-assessment process designed to be for regulatory compliance, with mandatory reporting required?

A: We want to be clear that this is a legal support service, not a compliance tool. These tools are designed to empower legal service providers to reflect upon how the 10 MSELP elements are achieved in  their own practices, and to identify improvements they can make to their management systems. We will support lawyers in this through a range of resources. The goal, for everyone, is to enhance legal service delivery to clients. We are working on the details around an appropriate frequency for self assessment as part of our consultation with the profession.

Q: What are the chances of a perfect self-assessment?

A: I don’t think it’s possible to have all 10 elements perfectly nailed down in any practice. If that entity exists, please step forward – show us how it’s done! All 10 elements need to be present in order to provide services in an ethically sound and competent way, but what that means for everyone is going to differ greatly.

Q: Is it the same self-assessment tool for everyone?

A: There will be more than one version of the tool. We have one developed for law firms and sole practitioners and we are testing it this fall. We’re also starting the consultation process to develop a  process for in-house corporate and public sector lawyers. 

Q: How will the pilot project unfold?

A: It’s going to be a very hands-on consultation. Initially, we will ask a random sample of 50 solo lawyers and firms  to try the self-assessment tool on their own, followed up by a meeting with someone from the Society. We’ll debrief on the answers, how they came to those answers, how useful the tool was in helping them to self assess. We want to know that the tool is user friendly, that it’s more than a survey and offers real value to lawyers in providing what they need to enhance their ethical infrastructure.

Q: What’s the best method for completing the self-assessment?

A: The way lawyers and firms complete their self-assessments will differ. Some people may do it by themselves if they are sole practitioners or principals of a small firm. Others may call a meeting and say, ‘I want to bring in everyone who works here so we can talk about this’. So there will be different processes. We’re interested in all of that. We also want to find out if we’re providing the right questions, considerations and resources to support reflection on each of the 10 elements.

Q: Can you walk us through how the self-assessment process works?

A: The 10 elements were approved by Council. The self-assessment tool outlines each element, together with indicators of that element and things to think about or consider in your own practice. A comprehensive list of resources is available to help you further understand your obligations and build stronger ethical infrastructure in your organization. Taking all this together, the legal entity is asked to assess the likelihood that each element is consistently present in their practice, on a scale of one to five. 

With the particular needs of smaller firms in mind, we’ve also developed a ‘Workbook’ that can be downloaded and completed offline, prior to filling out the self-assessment tool. The Workbook provides more specific examples of systems and methods in your practice that relate to each element, and allows lawyers to ‘work through’ their assessment in more detail. It also provides specific resources for, say, developing HR policies or templates for retainer letters.

Q: What’s the expected timeline for the pilot?

A: The initial testing starts this month for lawyers and firms in private practice. A preliminary report will be made to Council in February 2017 to examine the pain points, what surprised us, the range of feedback and what does it all mean? With the corporate and public sector group, we will consult on how this process can be adapted to reflect the unique needs of their practices. The final analysis and recommendations will go to Council next spring. If this proves to be the right approach, obviously there will be some tweaks and adjustments but once we’ve done all that, we hope full implementation will begin by July 2017. 

Alongside all of this we plan to keep the profession fully informed of the project, the process and the input we’re getting. The tool is online for anyone to see, and lawyers who aren’t participating in the pilot are still encouraged to get in touch. We welcome any and all input. It’s not a private consultation; it’s meant to engage with the wider membership but 1,800 interviews may take awhile, so a random sample will have to do! 

Q: Can you address how this is a ‘made in Nova Scotia’ approach, specific to legal entities in this province?

A: There’s no question that significant research and conversation has gone into this. We’ve been having a wide consultation nationally and internationally but primarily locally. We’ve taken some of the learnings and best practices from other jurisdictions but we are pioneering this approach in Canada.

Q: During previous consultations, some lawyers expressed concerns about Nova Scotia developing a different approach from the rest of the Atlantic region or the country.

A: This discussion is happening nationally. You can equate it with the Bar Exam and Bar Admission process. We have different approaches across the country but there are core competencies that all jurisdictions require of lawyers. The MSELP is about the core elements that are foundational to an ethical and competent legal practice. Nova Scotia is setting a path but several other law societies are taking steps toward legal services regulation, and we’re all working closely together to develop a shared national vocabulary. So we’re not just being radical here. But we are definitely surging forward.

Q: The draft self-assessment tool is quite detailed and comprehensive. Is there any concern that lawyers will find it to be a daunting exercise?

Historically, engagement with the regulator is often restricted to the mandatory compliance reporting, which doesn’t really engage lawyers in reflection on what they’re doing well, what they could do better, where they want to see their practice go. We’re encouraging lawyers to reflect on their ethical obligations and appropriate quality of service for their clients, and to give full consideration to where improvement is needed. Moving from a reactive process to a reflective process will be harder for some than others, but we are developing support services to help.

Q: If it’s adopted, will the self-assessment process have other added value over the longer term? 

We think this tool has the potential to really make a change in the way legal services are delivered in the province. We’re also expecting to find that some lawyers weren’t aware of the wealth of information and resources available through the Society. They can start using those regularly and calling upon us when they have ethics questions, when they’re struggling with an area of practice that’s new to them, or if they’re looking for tools or checklists to assist them in their practices.

Q: How will it help to ‘change the conversation’ between the public-interest regulator and the legal profession in Nova Scotia?  

We’re positioning ourselves to assist lawyers in enhancing their Management Systems for Ethical Legal Practice. That’s our role. We’re here to take their questions and concerns, direct them to the right place for the answers and provide them with resources to help them do the best job they can. Recognizing they’re all different and it’s not one size fits all. We want their first thought to be to call the Society to see how we can help.

That’s the relationship the Society has had with a number of lawyers for a long time now. We hope to engage the full realm of legal service providers in Nova Scotia with the tools and support we have to assist them in serving their clients’ current needs, and in anticipating and adapting to future legal service needs.