Updated November 4, 2010
Practice Review process is legislated as part of the 1999 amendments to the Law Society Act, ss.41–49 together with By–Law 11 on Professional Competence and Rule 2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Practice Review program provides focused practice reviews, practice management reviews and re-entry reviews. The process for each type of review is the same. The only difference lies in the method of selection. The reviews are remedial and consultative, as they involve the member, the reviewer and Practice Review staff every step of the way.
Focused Practice Reviews
In March 2004, Convocation approved indicia for identifying participants in Practice Review (see s. 27(2) By–law 11). These include both the number and type of complaints and information received in the course of investigations or audits. A Guide for Members provides further details of the indicia can be consulted. Lawyers experiencing difficulties in relation to their knowledge, skill, judgment, records, systems, office procedures or attention to the interests of clients, may be referred to Practice Review via any of the Law Society's regulatory units and also LawPRO
Practice Management Reviews
On June 22, 2006 Convocation approved the expansion of the Law Society's practice review program to include a practice management review component. The program was implemented on January 1, 2007. Reflecting the Society's emphasis on quality assurance in service of the public interest, the program is proactive and preventive - designed to support the goals of Law Society members to be efficient, effective and competent. Members one to eight years from the call to the bar and in private practice are eligible to participate.
In November 2008, Convocation approved a risk based random selection process which ensures that those selected also reflect the percentage of law firms presented in Law Society conduct matters and LawPro negligence claims for the profession, determined annually, and segregated by firm size.
On April 24, 2008, Convocation approved a new private practice re-entry requirement that replaces the Private Practice Refresher Program. The Law Society now requires lawyers who are returning to private practice as sole practitioners, or in a firm of five or fewer lawyers, after an absence of 48 months over the past five years, to undergo a practice management review within 12 months of establishing their practice.
While the Practice Review program is administered and co-ordinated by Law Society staff, the actual assessment and reporting is completed by either a roster of experienced lawyers (external reviewers) or one of the Law Society's Counsel, Practice Review (in-house).
The reviewer attends at the law practice in question to conduct the review. The reviewer and the lawyer begin their discussions by completing the Lawyer Basic Management Checklist, a practice analysis tool which assists in identifying possible deficiencies in the member's practice. For the focused practice reviews, attention is given to the underlying causes for rising complaints, insurance claims and other indicators of poor patterns of practice. The reviewer will also conduct a review of client files and may speak with other office staff or other persons who work with the lawyer.
Throughout the review the lawyer will receive practical advice and feedback. Risk areas will be identified and strategies for remediation will be discussed. In an effort to assist the lawyer with prompt remediation of risk areas, matters requiring action are identified during the course of the review. The lawyer will also be directed to resources on point.
Where the review is of an associate, and deficiencies are noted in practice management systems administered by the Firm's management, consent will be sought to address these matters directly with the responsible partner.
Areas of review may include:
- Time Management
- tickler system
- recording/docketing of time
- task list - current/future
- calendar control system
- listening/interviewing skills
- File Management/Client Service
- # open files
- opening/closing file procedure
- efficient filing system/organization (both manual and electronic)
- file storage - procedure/length of time
- file destruction
- conflicts check
- office manual – procedures and systems
- client intake, action, closure
- knowledge & skill (legal principles, procedures and substantive law)
- Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
- confidentiality - where to keep your files
- writing and drafting skills
- avoiding the 'ghost' client
- engagement letters
- non-engagement letters
- giving Independent Legal Advice
- managing client expectation
- handling client complaints
- improving writing skills
- Financial Management
- fees and billings
- record and bookkeeping
- billings - fees & disbursements
- controls for accounts payable & receivable
- trust accounts
- managing expectations
- following client instructions
- responding to client's telephone calls
- keeping client reasonably informed
- replying within a reasonable time
- informing client about the position of a matter
- handling the telephone
- handling mail and e-mail
- Technology and Equipment
- document templates
- library and research resources
- document transmission (e-reg, e-mail, fax, scanner, web)
- Professional Management
- articling students
- summer students
- support staff
- training & support
- partnership agreements
- Personal Management
- health and fitness
- Lawyer Assistance Programs
- outside interests
- coping with stress
- recognizing chemical dependencies
- recognizing depression
Opinion on Competence
Following the attendance, the reviewer prepares a report containing an analysis and assessment of the practice, including recommendations for appropriate remedies. Given the number of engagements annually and the length of the reports, a copy of the report is typically released to the lawyer roughly two to three months after the reviewer's attendance. The report may include recommendations for improvements and enhancements to current practice management systems, or may include mandatory recommendations where action is required to ensure that the lawyer meets minimum standards of competence.
If the report is a final report, an opinion on competence will be rendered. The lawyer will be asked to provide a response to the Practice Review Department confirming that they have reviewed the report, providing details of the implementation of all mandatory recommendations and a response with respect to any discretionary recommendations.
If the report is an initial report, then a re-attendance will be scheduled after six months. The lawyer will be asked to provide a detailed response to the Practice Review Department and the re-attendance will permit an assessment of the implementation of recommendations made in the initial report and the completion of the Practice Management Review.
If there are no recommendations made, or where the Practice Review Department is satisfied with the lawyer's implementation of recommendations made, the file will be closed.
If at the first attendance or following the second attendance the Lawyer is failing to meet the standards of competence as defined by section 41 of the Law Society Act, then, Practice Review may ask the Lawyer to enter into a Proposal Order or may be obliged to refer the matter to Professional Regulation.
For more details on the Practice Management Review program, access our Frequently Asked Questions or view the Professional Development Competence & Admissions Committee report to Convocation.