The Advisory: Volume 9, Issue 1, March 2011

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Trending Data on Lawyers in Alberta Today

Legal Profession Profile

A SURVEY undertaken by Ipsos Reid for the Law Society of Alberta’s Alternative Delivery of Legal Services Committee has provided trending data on lawyers in Alberta today.

The Committee commissioned the survey in order to better understand the legal profession, particularly legal services provided by Alberta lawyers, the cost associated with the delivery of legal services, and if there are currently any regulatory barriers to providing legal services.

This study was undertaken using an online survey last July 2010. The trending data informs the Law Society of Alberta about:

Lawyers’ Location of Practices:

Overall, a majority of survey respondents are located in Calgary or Edmonton, are active insured members of the Law Society, are not members of another Canadian law society and are not licensed to practise in any foreign jurisdiction. In addition, slightly under half have been practising for 20 or more years.

  • Nearly 88% of lawyers surveyed have their practice located in Edmonton or Calgary while just 13% are located in other areas of Alberta.
  • Over four-in-10 (44%) report they have been practising for 20 or more years while 32% have been practising for 9 years or less. Over half (52%) of lawyers surveyed expect to continue practising for 10-14 (18%) or 15 or more (33%) years.

The Types of Clients They Serve:

Active insured lawyers working as sole practitioners or in small firms are more likely to primarily serve individual Albertans while those in mid to large-sized firms are primarily focused on businesses/corporations.

  • Over six-in-10 (62%) lawyers work as either a sole practitioner (30%) or at a small law firm (32%). The remaining four-in-10 are employed at either a mid-sized firm (19%) or a large firm (20%).
  • Lawyers in Calgary and Edmonton are most likely to primarily serve businesses/ corporations (48% Calgary; 41% Edmonton) while those in other areas of Alberta are significantly more likely to primarily assist individual Albertans (78%).

Portion of Gross Income to Overhead:

On average, lawyers report that just under half of their firm’s gross annual income goes towards overhead expenses. The most typical form of billing among active insured lawyers is hourly with low usage of other billing methods.

  • Nearly seven-in-10 (68%) reported they did not know or refused to answer how much of their firm’s annual income was used for overhead expenses. However, among those who provided responses, the mean was 45.2%.
  • The mean hourly billing rate for active insured lawyers in Alberta is $319.50.
  • On average, the majority of the time worked each week by active insured lawyers is billable (34.7 hours) followed by non-billable (13.4) and other (7.6) hours.

Hours of In-House Lawyers:

Active insurance exempt lawyers are mainly corporate in-house or government lawyers and work an average of 45.1 hours per week. Those working corporate in-house were most often employed in the energy industry.

  • Just under half (46%) are corporate-inhouse while an additional four-in10 (39%) are government lawyers. Slightly more than one-in-10 (13%) reported they were crown prosecutors and 2% fell into other insurance exempt categories.
  • Corporate in-house lawyers were asked which industry they worked in with the top response being energy – oil and gas (45%) followed by energy – other (13%).

Use of Technology in Practices:

Lawyers in Alberta use a range of technology in their practices. However, they do not appear to be early adopters as the technologies used are all well established and few report plans to add new technologies within the next year.

  • All lawyers were then asked about the technologies they use with the most frequently always/regularly used being email (98%), fax (67%) smart phone (58%), and law firm/accounting management software (53%).

Top Barrier to Accessing Legal Services:

Lawyers believe that one of the top barriers to accessing legal services for Albertans is the high fees and the cost associated with seeking assistance. Suggestions of what can be done to help reduce these barriers focused on public education and communication as well as affordability and process changes.

  • Over nine-in10 lawyers (93%) lawyers feel that cost/affordability is very (71%) or somewhat (22%) significant to Albertans. This is followed by two barriers focused on lack of knowledge/understanding of legal issues (66%) and the help available (65%). Over half (53%) also feel that a desire to resolve the issue independently is a barrier to Albertans.
  • Nearly six-in-10 (59%) stated they would refer a client who is unable to pay to Legal Aid Alberta followed by roughly one-third who would refer to a pro bono clinic (33%) or another lawyer (32%) and one-quarter (25%) to Alberta Law Line.
  • The top areas that lawyers feel Albertans lack access to legal services are family/matrimonial (35%), domestic violence (23%), civil litigation (22%), landlord and tenantresidential (22%), and child welfare (21%).

Self-Represented Litigants and Legal Services:

Most of the lawyers surveyed have experience with self-represented litigants and feel that, for the most part, they do a poor job representing themselves. In addition, lawyers feel that self-represented litigants impact the system negatively by causing delays and increasing the costs for those with representation.

  • Slightly more than three-quarters (77%) have come across litigants who have represented themselves in court.
  • Lawyers feel that self-represented litigants impact the Alberta legal system negatively because of delays (64%), costs (28%), lack of knowledge (23%), burden on the system (17%), and bias issues (15%).

Lawyers’ Steps Towards Access:

In general, lawyers are taking steps to facilitate Albertans’ access. Over half provide pro bono legal services to clients and offer legal services to clients on a limited scope retainer. In addition, the vast majority have provided legal services on a reduced fee basis and two-in-10 provide services to clients through Legal Aid Alberta.

  • In most cases (48%), the pro bono work is done as part of their law practice while some (10%) do so through an organized pro bono delivery program or clinic.
  • The majority (86%) of active insured lawyers have provided legal services on a reduced fee basis to clients having difficulty affording legal services.
  • Over six-in-10 (62%) feel that providing limited scope retainers will enhance Albertans’ access to justice because it will lower cost/make the legal system more affordable, the client can self-represent the case, provide some legal assistance behind the scenes, and cater to specific needs/focus on specific issues.

Two-in-10 (20%) do provide Legal Aid services. Those who do provide services to clients through Legal Aid Alberta serve, on average, 36.9 files per year.

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