The Guideline is not intended to replace a lawyer's professional judgment or to establish a one-size-fits-all approach to the practice of law. Subject to Guideline provisions that incorporate legal, By-Law or Rules of Professional Conduct requirements, a decision not to follow the Guideline will not, in and of itself, indicate that a member has failed to provide quality service. Conversely, use of the Guideline may not ensure that a lawyer has delivered quality service. Whether a lawyer has provided quality service will depend upon the circumstances of each case.
Table of Contents
The financial management of a law practice requires attention to sound business practices and adherence to governing regulatory provisions. The Financial Management Guideline summarizes both mandatory and recommended practices relating to the financial management of a law practice.
This includes billing practices, the handling of money and other property, the use of credit cards, professional liability insurance requirements and record keeping requirements.
The Financial Management Guideline offers a list of internal control procedures to assist lawyers in managing risk. It is important for lawyers to implement fees and billings procedures that focus on
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4.2 Billing Methods and Charges
Although some billing methods are more common than others, lawyers should consider adopting procedures which are most appropriate to their particular circumstances. Common billing methods include
- hourly rate, charging for the actual time expended on the client matter
- fixed or flat fee, charging a fixed rate regardless of the time expended on the matter
- fees by stages, charging for a matter which is broken down into stages, and an estimate is given as to the fee for each stage or step in the matter.
4.2.1 Charges Must be Fair and Reasonable
In determining the amounts to be charged for legal fees or disbursements, lawyers shall ensure that the charges are fair and reasonable. [Rule 2.08(1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct]
In determining what is fair and reasonable, lawyers should consider the following factors
- time required and spent
- effort required and spent
- difficulty of the matter
- importance of the matter
- whether special skill is required and provided
- whether special service is required and provided
- amount of money or other assets involved
- value of the subject matter
- results obtained
- any fees authorized by statute or regulation
- special circumstances such as
- loss of other retainers in order to accommodate the particular retainer
- postponement of payment by the client
- uncertainty of reward
- urgency of the matter.
4.2.2 Disclose the Amounts Charged for Fees and Disbursements
Lawyers should, at the earliest possible opportunity, indicate and explain to the client what the anticipated charges will be for fees and disbursements.
4.2.3 Timely Disclosure of Charges
At a minimum, charges for fees or disbursements shall be disclosed to the client in a timely fashion. What constitutes disclosure in a timely fashion will vary depending on the particular circumstances. [Rule 2.08 (1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct]
Where possible to do so, lawyers should provide the client with a fair estimate of fees and disbursements, pointing out any uncertainties involved, in order to enable the client to make an informed decision. [Commentary to Rule 2.08(2) of the Rules of Professional Conduct]
Lawyers should advise the client of any circumstance that is likely to, or has, changed the nature of the work on the file. Lawyers should inform the client of the impact of that change on the estimate of fees and disbursements, discuss next steps, and revisit the estimate.
4.2.5 Joint Retainers
Lawyers acting for two or more clients in a matter shall, unless the clients otherwise agree, divide the fees and disbursements equitably between them. [Rule 2.08(5) of the Rules of Professional Conduct]
4.2.6 Money Retainers
If practicable, lawyers may obtain a money retainer from the client at the outset and ask that the money retainer be replenished as the matter proceeds and interim accounts are rendered.
In determining the frequency and amount of the money retainers required of clients, lawyers should consider their obligation to continue to represent clients in certain circumstances, despite non-payment of fees. Lawyers may not withdraw from representing a non-paying client if serious prejudice to the client would result. [Rule 2.09 (3) and Rule 2.09(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct]
4.2.7 Written Confirmation
If practicable, lawyers should consider confirming their billing policy in writing for both fees and disbursements. Lawyers may wish to consider confirming their billing policies by
- written retainer agreement executed by the client
- engagement letter from the lawyer
- confirming memo to the client by mail or e-mail.
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4.3 Interim Billing, Work in Progress, or Account Status Reports
Lawyers may periodically send clients work in progress, account status reports or reminder letters to
- keep clients apprised of the expense or cost of the matter to date
- to request payment of any outstanding amounts.
If practicable and appropriate in the circumstances of the particular retainer, lawyers may consider
- implementing a firm policy that requires matters to be billed on a regular basis (fees and disbursement), usually on a monthly basis
- insist that clients pay for disbursements before they are incurred. Lawyers shall ensure that all Statements of Accounts delivered to clients clearly and separately detail the amounts charged as fees and as disbursements. [Rule 2.08 (4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct]
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4.4 Financial Obligations
4.4.1 Meeting Obligations
Lawyers shall promptly meet financial obligations in relation to their practice. [Rule 6.01(2) of the Rules of Professional Conduct]
4.4.2 Obligations to Third Parties
Prior to retaining third parties such as consultants, experts or other professionals, the lawyer should clarify the terms of the retainer in writing, including specifying the fees, the nature of the services to be provided and the person responsible for payment. [Commentary to Rule 6.01(2) of the Rules of Professional Conduct]
If the lawyer is not responsible for the payment of the fees, the lawyer should assist in making satisfactory arrangements for payment if reasonably possible to do so.
If there is a change of lawyer, the lawyer who originally retained the third party should advise the third party about the change and provide information about the new lawyer including
- telephone number
- facsimile number
- e-mail address.
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4.5 Changes to Costs Estimates
If circumstances arise that may substantially affect the amount of a fee or disbursement, the lawyer should forestall misunderstandings or disputes by giving the client an immediate explanation. [Commentary to Rule 2.08 (2) of the Rules of Professional Conduct]
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4.6 Restricted Practices
4.6.1 Hidden Fees
Lawyers may only take fees, reward, costs, commission, interest, rebate, agency or forwarding allowance, or other compensation related to employment from
- the client
- someone other than the client, but only with full disclosure to and with the consent of the client, or
in cases where the lawyer's fees are being paid by someone other than the client, such as a legal aid agency, a borrower, or personal representative, with the consent of such agency or other person. [Commentary to Rule 2.08(2) of the Rules of Professional Conduct]
The consent of the client, other person or agency shall be either in writing or reduced to writing. [Rule 1.02 of the Rules of Professional Conduct]
4.6.2 Contingent Fees and Contingent Fee Agreements
Lawyers shall not enter into contingent fee arrangements with clients except in accordance with the provisions of Rules 2.08(1)(3) of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
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4.7 Fee Arrangements With Other Lawyers
4.7.1 Division of Fees
Lawyers may divide fees with other lawyers who are not in the same firm only if all of the following conditions are met
4.7.2 Referral Fees
Lawyers may accept referral fees and lawyers may pay referral fees to the referring lawyer only if all of the following conditions are met
- financial or other reward for the referral of the client or client matters is given to a person who is a lawyer
- referral is because of the expertise and ability of the other lawyer to handle the matter
- referral is not because of a conflict of interest
- referral fee is reasonable and does not increase the total amount of the fees charged to the client; and
- client is informed and consents in writing. [Rule 1.02 and Rule 2.08 (7) and Rule 2.08 (8)(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct]
Lawyers in multi-disciplinary practices may divide fees and may accept from and pay referral fees to non-lawyer partners, provided that the conditions set out in Rule 2.08(9) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, are met.
Lawyers who are members of inter-provincial law firms or in law partnerships with Ontario and non-Canadian lawyers may divide fees, and may accept from and pay referral fees to their non-Canadian lawyer colleagues, provided that the conditions set out in Rule 2.08(9) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, are met.
Affiliations are not subject to the exception for multi-discipline practices and inter-provincial and international law firms. [Commentary to Rule 2.08(9) of the Rules of Professional Conduct]
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4.8 Appropriation of Client Funds
Lawyers shall not appropriate any funds of the client held in trust or otherwise under the lawyer's control for or on account of fees except as permitted by the By‑Laws of the Law Society Act. [Rule 2.08 (10) of the Rules of Professional Conduct]
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4.9 Handling of Money and Other Property
4.9.1 Prohibited Cash Transactions in Client Files
When a lawyer engages in, or gives instructions with respect to the following activities
- receives or pays funds
- purchases or sells securities, real properties or business assets or entities
- transfers funds by any means
the lawyer shall not receive or accept from a person cash in an aggregate amount of $7500 or more in Canadian dollars in respect of any one client file.
This prohibition does not apply where the lawyer receives cash
- from a public body and certain entities as described in By‑Law 9, s.6
- from a peace officer, law enforcement agency or other agent of the Crown, acting in an official capacity
- pursuant to an order of the tribunal
- to pay a fine or penalty
- for fees, disbursements, expenses or bail, provided that any refunds out of such receipts are also made in cash [By‑Law 9, s. 4 to 6]
4.9.3 Trust Accounts
a) Money Paid Into Trust Account
A lawyer who receives money in trust for a client shall immediately pay the money into a bank or other institution.
Pursuant to By‑Law 9, s.7(2), a lawyer receives money in trust for a client if the lawyer receives the following from a person
- money belonging in whole or in part to the client
- money held on behalf of a client
- money held on a client's direction or order
- money advanced as a retainer for fees not yet rendered
- money advanced as a retainer for disbursements not yet made
- money paid to a lawyer that belongs in part to a client, in part to the lawyer, where it is not practicable to split the payment of the money
- money that, by inadvertence, has been inappropriately drawn from a trust account, not in accordance with By‑Law 9, s. 9. [see below]
b) Money Not to be Paid Into Trust Account
Lawyers are not required to pay into a trust account money received in trust for a client if
- client so requests in writing
- lawyer pays the money into an account to be kept
- in the name of the client
- a person named by the client
- an agent of the client
- lawyer pays the money to a person on behalf of the client immediately upon receiving it from the client, in accordance with ordinary business practices.
Although not required to pay these funds into a trust account, lawyers shall include all handling of such money in the lawyer's records in accordance with By‑Law 9, Part V.
Lawyers shall not pay into a trust account
- money that belongs entirely to the lawyer or to another member of the lawyer's firm
- money that is received by a lawyer
- as payment for fees for services for which a billing has been delivered
- as payment for fees for services already performed for which a billing will be delivered immediately after the money is received
- as reimbursement for disbursements made or expenses incurred on behalf of the client.
4.9.4 Withdrawal of Money from Trust Account
a) Money That May Be Withdrawn
Lawyers shall only withdraw the following from a trust account
- money properly required for payment to a client or to a person on behalf of a client
- money to reimburse the lawyer for money properly expended, or incurred on behalf of a client
- money required for, or toward, payment of fees for services performed for which a billing has been delivered
- money directly transferred into another trust account and held on behalf of a client
- money that should not have been paid into a trust account but was inadvertently paid into a trust account
- other money if authorized to do so by The Law Society of Upper Canada.
b) Manner of Withdrawal of Certain Money
When transfering trust monies properly due from their clients, lawyers shall only
- withdraw money from a trust account by cheque drawn in favour of the lawyer
- transfer to a bank account kept in the name of the lawyer and is not a trust account
- electronically transfer according to the procedure set out in By‑Law 9, s.12.
4.9.5 Withdrawal by Cheque
Lawyers shall ensure that cheques drawn on a trust account shall not be
- made payable to either cash or to bearer
- signed by a person who is not a lawyer, except in exceptional circumstances and if conditions exist as set out in By‑Law 9, Part IV.
4.9.6 Withdrawal by Electronic Transfer
Lawyers shall only withdraw money from a trust account by electronic transfer if the conditions in By‑Law 9, Part IV are met. Conditions to be met include
- electronic system requirements
- timely production of confirmation of certain information relating to the electronic transfer
- use of electronic transfer requisition, Form 9A.
4.9.7 Automatic Withdrawals from Trust Accounts
Lawyers may authorize Teranet to withdraw from a trust account certain funds required to pay document registration fees and land transfer tax, provided that all the conditions set out inBy‑Law 9, Part IV are met.
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4.10 Use of Credit Cards
Lawyers may enter into agreements with financial institutions that offer credit card services provided that certain conditions are met
- all service charges, discounts and other fees payable by the lawyer to the financial institution are deducted from the general account and not the trust account
- credit card payments for retainers shall only be deposited directly into trust accounts and credit card payments for payments on account shall only be deposited directly into the general account
- client confidentiality is maintained - the sales slip shall not indicate the nature of the legal services only the words "legal services" plus a file number and dollar amount
- amount of the charge is inserted at the time the client signs the slip
- the words "trust account" appear on the original credit card slip
- sales slip is presented for deposit in the appropriate trust account in accordance with the By‑Laws
- credit card company's discount or fee is not charged to the client.
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Lawyers shall maintain financial records for all money and other property received and disbursed in connection with the lawyer's practice, in the form and for the period of time set out below, in accordance with By‑Law 9, Part V.
The following records shall be maintained for at least the 10 year period immediately preceding the lawyer's most recent fiscal year end:
- Trust Receipt Book of Original Entry [By‑Law 9, s.18 p.1] identifying
- each date on which money is received in trust for a client
- the method by which money is received
- person from whom money is received
- amount of money received
- client for whom the money is received in trust.
- Trust Cash Disbursements Book of Original Entry [By‑Law 9, s.18 p.2] showing all disbursements paid out of money held in trust for a client and identifying
- each date on which money is disbursed
- method by which money is disbursed, including the number or similar identifier of any document used to disburse money
- person to whom money is disbursed
- amount of money disbursed
- client on whose behalf the money is disbursed.
- Clients' Trust Ledger [By‑Law 9, s.18 p.3] showing separately for each client for whom money is received in trust
- all money received
- all money disbursed
- any unexpected balance.
- Record of Monthly Comparisons of Trust Liabilities and Trust Bank Reconciliations [By‑Law 9, s.18 p.8] showing
- monthly comparison of the total balances held in trust account(s) and the total of all unexpected balances held in trust for clients as they appear from the financial records
- reasons for any differences between the totals
- records to support the monthly comparisons, including
- detailed monthly listing showing the amount of money held in trust for each client and identifying each client
- detailed monthly reconciliation of each trust bank account.
- Record of Property Held in Trust [By‑Law 9, s.18 p.9] showing all property other than money held in trust for clients, describing each property and identifying
- date on which the lawyer took possession of each property
- person who had possession of each property immediately before the lawyer took possession
- value of each property
- client for whom each property is held in trust
- date on which possession of each property is given away
- person to whom possession of each property is given.
- Banking Documents For all Trust and General Accounts [By‑Law 9, s.18 p.10], in particular
- bank statements
- pass books
- cashed cheques
- detailed duplicate deposit slips.
- Electronic Trust Transfer Documents [By‑Law 9, s.18 p.11], in particular
- signed electronic trust transfer requisitions
- signed printed confirmations of electronic transfers of trust funds.
The following records shall be maintained for at least the 6 year period immediately preceding the lawyer's most recent fiscal year end:
- Book of Duplicate Receipts with each receipt [By‑Law 9, s.19(1)] identifying
- date on which cash is received
- person from whom cash is received
- amount of cash received
- client for whom cash is received
- any file number in respect of which cash is received and containing the signature of:
- the lawyer or person authorized by the lawyer to receive cash, and
- the person from whom cash is received
The lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to obtain the signature of the person from whom cash is received.
- Record of Trust Transfers [By‑Law 9, s.18 p.4] showing all transfers of money
- between clients' trust ledger accounts
- explaining the purpose for which each transfer was made.
- General Cash Receipts Book of Original Entry [By‑Law 9, s.18 p.5] showing all money received, other than money received in trust for a client and identifying
- each date on which the money is received
- method by which money is received
- person from whom the money is received
- amount of money received.
- General Cash Disbursements Book of Original Entry [By‑Law 9, s.18 p.6] showing all money disbursed, other than money held in trust for a client, and identifying
- each date on which money is disbursed
- method by which the money is disbursed
- amount of money disbursed
- person to whom money is disbursed.
- Fees Book or Chronological File of Copies of Billings [By‑Law 9, s.18 p.7] showing
- all fees charged and other billings made to clients
- the dates on which fees are charged and other billings made to clients
- identification of clients charged and billed.
- Teranet Withdrawal Documents [By‑Law 9, s.18 p.12], in particular
- signed authorizations of withdrawals by Teranet
- signed paper copies of confirmations of withdrawals by Teranet.
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4.12 Form of Records to be Maintained
In accordance with By‑Law 9, s.21 and 22, lawyers shall ensure that all financial records
- are permanent
- if they are posted by hand, they shall be entered and posted in ink
- may be produced in paper copy promptly on request of The Law Society of Upper Canada
- are current, and in the case of the lawyer's Record of Monthly Comparisons of Trust Liabilities and Trust Bank Reconciliations, created within 25 days after the last day of the month in respect of which it is being created.
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4.13 Records Relating to Mortgages or Charges
Lawyers who hold mortgages or other charges in trust for clients shall comply with the record keeping requirements in By‑Law 9, Part V.
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4.14 Internal Controls
Although a lack of internal controls does not necessarily constitute a breach of the Rules of Professional Conduct or By‑Laws, lawyers may consider implementing internal controls to assist in their efforts to comply. The following are suggested internal controls. Not all suggestions are practicable for all lawyers. Depending on their particular circumstance, lawyers may choose to adopt some or all or create their own self-assessing internal controls.
4.14.1 Cash, Client Files Involving Financial Transactions
Consider the following suggestions when dealing with files relating to financial transactions
- Implement a 'no cash' policy, the firm will not receive or accept cash, or implement a procedure to ensure that the $7500 limit per client file is not exceeded
- No cash will be accepted by the firm unless the person from whom cash is received and the lawyer receiving cash first sign receipts in duplicate
Consider the following suggestions when dealing with trust accounts. Lawyers may wish to adopt similar controls for general accounts:
a) Cheque Requisitions
- all cheque requests are accompanied by a signed cheque requisition evidencing approval
- only certain designated lawyers may authorize trust account payments
- only certain designated individuals may authorize general account payments
- firm personnel responsible for preparing cheques are instructed not to prepare cheques unless the requisition includes a signature of approval
- supporting documentation (such as an original invoice, reporting letter, statement of receipts or disbursements) accompanies the cheque requisition, where possible
- original copy of the invoice is stamped paid (to prevent an individual from using an invoice more than once to obtain funds)
- photocopies of invoices are not generally accepted as support for cheque requisitions.
b) Cheque Signing Policies
- cheques in excess of a threshold amount require the signatures of two partners
- cheques are never to be signed in blank
- cheques made payable to financial institutions include details of the transaction
- cheques are in numbered order and the sequence is checked
- at least one of the individuals signing the cheques always reviews the request for payment to determine if the request relates to trust funds and reviews the client file, to determine
- validity of the request for payment
- reasonableness of the amount requested
- if sufficient funds are available to pay the amount of the cheque
- to ensure that an accounting to the client for receipts and disbursements is completed.
4.14.3 Trust Records
Consider the following suggestions:
- monthly reconciliations and adjustments are reviewed and signed by someone other than the individual who prepared the reconciliation
- reviewer of the reconciliation ensures that
- reconciliations are prepared on time
- reconciled items are cleared promptly
- all unusual items are questioned and an adequate explanation is given for the unusual nature of the item and noted in the firm records and client file
- list of trust balances is periodically reviewed for closed or completed matters including trust balances that have not changed in the past twelve months
- trust transfer requisition is prepared to transfer funds from one client's trust ledger account to another trust ledger account
- written authorization from the client to transfer funds to another trust ledger is always obtained prior to the trust transfer
- trust transfer requisition is signed by the responsible lawyer and an explanation is provided
- accounting department, or personnel responsible for accounting, has been instructed only to process trust transfer requisitions only if the criteria for signatures and explanations has been met
- senior partner or office manager periodically reviews the client's trust ledger accounts for unusual items
- blank trust cheques should be kept in a secure manner.
4.14.4 Clients' Valuable Property
- proper inventory of valuable items held on behalf of the client(s) is maintained
- physical existence of these items is periodically tested.
4.14.5 Staffing Policies
- firm has a policy respecting an individual's need to take regular holidays
- firm conducts periodic reviews of lawyers' work
- be aware of indicators of potential problems which may result in inappropriate activities or conduct, including
- lawyer is consistently too busy to take holidays
- lawyer appears to be living beyond his or her means
- sudden and significant increases in advances for entertainment expenditures
- large increases in unbilled disbursements
- lawyer's production has fallen off for no apparent reason
- lawyer appears withdrawn or nervous
- lawyer continually makes last minute requests for funds
- periodic reviews of client files are conducted by a senior partner or office manager to ensure
- client receives an accounting for trust receipts and disbursements
- details of the accounting to the client match with the trust ledger
- file is maintained in an orderly fashion
- lawyers consider whether their outside interests may put them in a conflict of interest situation.
4.14.6 Segregation of Duties
Lawyers should segregate firm duties so that the same individual does not have complete control over the management of funds. Some suggestions include
- individual who opens the mail is different from the individual responsible for preparing a listing of all cash and cheques received
- all cheques received are stamped "deposit only"
- firm issues receipts for all cash or cheques received to
- provide client with proof of payment
- help prevent funds from being redirected to another client's account
- numerical sequence of receipts are checked to ensure that all funds receipted are also recorded in accounting records and deposited into the bank.
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4.15 Computer Controls
Lawyers should consider controls and systems appropriate for their circumstances to ensure information maintained in their computers is secure and only accessible by designated firm members as required.
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Lawyers should ensure that they have sufficient professional liability insurance coverage appropriate to their particular circumstances and practice arrangement. Lawyers may consider assessing their insurance by reviewing LawPRO's Insurance Types and the lawyer's Practice Type.
4.16.1 Insurance Types
- standard program
- run-off insurance
- optional insurance coverage to increase coverage limits including
- innocent party
- run-off buy up.
4.16.2 Practice Types
- private practice including lawyers
- on temporary leaves
- in MDPs
- in professional corporations
- retired lawyers, judges and other lawyers no longer practising law
- in-house corporate counsel
- government lawyers, educators and other lawyers not in active practice
- new calls to the profession.
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4.17 Planning For Death, Disability and Business Interruptions
Lawyers may consider implementing a plan to deal with death, disability, or business interruptions. The purposes of planning for business interruptions for death or disability are to
- preserve the practice
- for the disabled lawyer, during the lawyer's disability, or if the disability is permanent, for wind up or sale
- on the lawyer's death, for wind up or sale on behalf of the estate
- enable another lawyer to step into the practice for continuation, winding up or sale, with relative ease
- maintain client confidentiality
- have financial resources in place to preserve the practice.
Lawyers may consider adopting the following to assist in the event of their disability
- ensure the practice is organized and that all information is recorded and easily accessible for the successor lawyer
- purchase insurance
- life insurance to pay for the wind up or sale of the practice
- disability/business interruption insurance to pay the successor lawyer to continue the practice and to provide a source of disability income for the disabled lawyer
- have a power of attorney granting a successor lawyer the ability to access trust and general accounts and continue with the practice.
The lawyer may consider having a will that addresses issues related to the practice in the event of death. Consider appointing a lawyer as co-estate administrator or executor to deal with the law practice.
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4.18 Disaster Plans
Lawyers should consider planning for disasters which stop normal office processes as a result of either routine or dramatic events, such as
- extreme weather conditions
- prolonged power or communications failure
- robbery or other criminal activity
- civil unrest
- terrorist acts.
In devising a disaster plan, lawyers may wish to consider the following
- set out a plan to protect firm members
- have an evacuation plan
- have frequent scheduled and unscheduled drills
- keep emergency exits clear
- maintain emergency equipment on sight
- train staff in CPR and first aid
- preserve assets and critical information such as critical dates and deadlines
- duplicate paper files in electronic form and store in a secure location off site
- ensure viability of the firm operations, including steps for business recovery and resumption
- deal with succession issues in cases where key firm members are either killed or permanently disabled.
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Business Plan Outline (PDF), Practice PRO
By‑Law 11, Regulation of Conduct, Capacity and Professional Competence
Establishing the Retainer (PDF)
Flat Fee Disbursement Billings (PDF)
Great Expectations: A Lawyer-Client Handbook (PDF), Canadian Bar Association and Canadian Bar Insurance Association
Law Society Act, s. 41
Litigation Cost Estimate Template (PDF)
Managing Practice Interruptions (PDF), Practice PRO
Managing the Finances of Your Practice (PDF), Practice PRO
Managing the Lawyer/Client Relationship, Practice PRO
Qs and As - Preventing Money Laundering
Real Estate, Joint Retainers, Conflicts of Interest, Prohibition Against Acting for Borrower and Lender (PDF)
Rules of Professional Conduct, Rules 2.01 and 2.08
Sample Associate Agreement (PDF), Practice PRO
Sample Budget (PDF), Practice PRO
Sample Client Memorandum: Billing Information (PDF)
Seven Keys to Great Client Service (PDF), Canadian Bar Association and Canadian Bar Insurance Association
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