Home Offices and Sharing Office Space
Working from a home office or sharing workspace is becoming increasingly common as a means for lawyers to reduce the overhead costs of their law practices. Whether you are starting out in practice or considering changing your office space arrangements, you should ensure that your work space meets the needs of your law practice and must ensure that you are able to comply with your professional obligations.
Before committing to a home office, you should consider whether operating a law practice from home is limited by law (e.g., municipal zoning or condominium by-law) and whether any physical changes (e.g., renovations) will be needed to accommodate a home office or client access to your office.
If you choose to conduct your practice from home or to set up a home office for occasional work from home, you must ensure that you are able to meet your obligations under the Rules of Professional Conduct (the “Rules”) and the by-laws to the Law Society Act. In the context of a home office, you should especially be mindful of your obligations to maintain confidentiality (s. 3.3) and preserve client property (s. 3.5). Specifically, a lawyer considering a home office must ensure he or she has the physical space required for a dedicated home office and, in some cases, may have to take additional steps to control access to the home office or client information. It is critical that the lawyer have privacy while working at home and secure storage for financial records, client files, as well as client property. This may require restricting access to the home office space and returning all documents and client information to a secure file storage location when the files are not in use. Measures must also be taken to preserve confidentiality and security of electronic client information, documents, and email viewed or stored on computers in a home office. This may include password-protection of the lawyer’s computer, segregation of electronic client files from personal files, and encryption of electronic files, particularly if the lawyer’s computer is also used by others in the household.
In order to determine whether an office sharing arrangement suits your practice needs, you should discuss relevant issues and terms with the prospective party or parties, such as
- who will sign the lease as the tenant (i.e., one, some, or of all of the individuals or corporate entities sharing office premises);
- whether there will be shared staff, who will employ them, and who must fulfill any employment-related responsibilities (e.g., salary, standard deductions, benefits, etc.);
- whether there will be shared equipment and who will be responsible (e.g., for the purchase or lease, maintenance and repairs, etc.);
- whether there will be shared office supplies (e.g., printer or photocopier paper) and who will be responsible for purchasing;
- how joint expenses will be allocated among the parties to the arrangement (e.g., phone services, Internet access, utilities, etc.); and
- what will happen if there is a dispute or one or all of the parties involved choose to end the space sharing arrangement.
You may wish to consider putting the terms of the office sharing arrangement in writing. Doing so will clearly outline responsibilities and reduce the possibility of misunderstanding.
You must ensure that your office sharing arrangement allows you to meet all of your obligations under the Rules and by-laws. Of particular note, lawyers must be mindful that sharing office space does not afford them the entitlements of those who are partners in or employed by the same firm. For instance, if the lawyer is not a partner in or employee of the same firm as the individual with whom he or she is sharing office space, the lawyer is not permitted to discuss client files or share a trust account with that individual, even if the individual is a lawyer or paralegal. Moreover, lawyers must not misrepresent the office sharing arrangement through letterhead, signage, or website (e.g., suggesting that the lawyer and other party are one law firm), or market legal services in a way that does or is likely to mislead, confuse, or deceive anyone about the arrangement (s. 4.2). Finally, lawyers should also employ practices to preserve client confidentiality and property and may consider implementing similar practices to those outlined above with respect to home offices.
Guide to Opening Your Practice for Lawyers
For assistance interpreting the Rules of Professional Conduct or understanding other practice management obligations, please contact the Practice Management Helpline at 416-947-3315 or 1-800-668-7380, ext 3315.
Visit the Your Practice section of the Law Society Gazette for Rules Recap: quarterly updates of Law Society rule and by-law amendments.
Change in Filing Options – Estate Administration Tax Act, 1998
The Ministry of Finance has advised the Law Society that it has introduced an on-line service for the submission of the Estate Information Return under the Estate Administration Tax Act, 1998. Lawyers now have the option of submitting this form electronically. Where the on-line service is used, the Ministry will send an immediate confirmation of receipt via email upon submission of the Estate Information Return. The on-line form may be accessed at: http://www.forms.ssb.gov.on.ca/mbs/ssb/forms/ssbforms.nsf/GetFileAttach/9955E~3/$File/9955E.pdf.
Law Society Referral Service
We encourage and welcome all lawyers and paralegals to apply to join the Law Society Referral Service for 2017. It helps to give back to the community, expand your profile and potentially generate more clients for you. You may now apply to join the service through your LSUC Portal account. The annual non-refundable membership fee is $282.50 (including applicable taxes). New applicants who join LSRS after January 31 will have their LSRS fee pro-rated monthly. Additional information about the service.
Final date to pay Annual Fees is March 2. Failure to pay fees will result in a $100 late fee on or about this date and referral for suspension. (Not applicable to licensees enrolled in the Pre-Authorized Payment Plan.)
Coach and Advisor Network
Are you ready to take charge of your professional development? The Law Society’s Coach and Advisor Network (CAN) provides lawyers and paralegals with access to shorter-term, outcome-oriented relationships with Coaches and Advisors drawn from the professions. Coaches support the implementation of best practices and Advisors assist with substantive and procedural law inquiries on client files.
Do you want to develop a specific skill or tackle a practice management best practice over the next few months? A Coach can help. You will begin with a 1.5-hour session with a Coach followed by a series of five 30-minute sessions set on alternating weeks, resulting in approximately a 3-month commitment. Request Time with a Coach.
Do you have a question about a client file that would benefit from a phone call with a seasoned practitioner? An Advisor can help. An Advisor will provide you with up to 30 minutes of guidance on a substantive or procedural issue on a client file. Request Time with an Advisor.
Are you willing to be a resource to the profession and invest your time to help other lawyers and paralegals improve their professional competence? Consider applying to be a Coach, an Advisor or both.
February 23 - Convocation - check this month's web page for the link to online viewing of Convocation and the archived webcast.
February 28 - Last day to enrol in Monthly Pre-Authorized Payment Plan (Monthly PAP) for annual fee. There is an $80 (including HST) administration fee for this payment option.
March 2 - Final date to pay Annual Fees. Failure to pay fees will result in a $100 late fee on or about this date and referral for suspension. (Not applicable to licensees enrolled in the Pre-Authorized Payment Plan.)
March 7 - First Monthly Pre-Authorized Payment Plan withdrawal. Continues on the fifth business day of each month from April to December.
March 31 - 2016 Lawyer Annual Report due; 2016 Paralegal Annual Report due; 2016 Class L2 Licence Annual Report due; 2016 Class L3 Licence Annual Report due.
April 27 - Convocation - check this month's web page for the link to online viewing of Convocation and the archived webcast.
April 30 - LAWPRO 2017 Real Estate and Civil Litigation Levy Surcharge annual exemption form due.
April 30 - LAWPRO 2017 First Quarter Real Estate and Civil Litigation Levy Surcharge filings and applicable payments due.