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The Advisory: Volume 9, Issue 3, December 2011


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Executive Director’s Report

Three Dimensions of Risk Being Strategically Managed

By Don Thompson, QC, Executive Director, Law Society of Alberta

We talk a lot about risk and managing risk at the Law Society. Some readers may be wondering how risk management fits with our core function as a regulator of the legal profession.

At the Law Society, we define risk management as “managing the inherent risk of putting any professional lawyer in practice.” What does that mean and how do we do this?

What “managing risks” means is that, in addition to responding to complaints and through discipline, we are taking proactive and preventative approaches. We are being proactive in identifying lawyers at risk or demonstrating risky behaviors, and working to remediate those risks. We are being preventative in setting up processes and compliance requirements to reduce the risk of harm to the public.

We do this by beginning to manage risks from the time law students apply to article and enter the practice of law.

In addition to the traditional work of responding to unethical conduct through discipline, we manage three dimensions of risk:

  1. New Lawyers. Operating a Credentialing process in which we carefully screen law student applicants and principals. Weak new lawyers or weak principals often start on a risky foundation. The outcome of managing this dimension is to ensure good character and entry level competence.
  2. Lawyers at Risk. Operating a Practice Review process in which we recommend that lawyers at risk enter practice review before they find themselves in conduct proceedings. The outcome of managing this dimension is ensuring competence.
  3. Trust Property. Implementing a new Trust Safety Program which reduces the risk to trust funds held by lawyers on behalf of their clients. This program requires adequate systems and procedures to manage the risks to lawyers and the public from fraudulent schemes and scams.

The cooperation and support of the profession in the implementation of the Trust Safety program as well as Credentialing and Practice Review demonstrates that these programs are consistent with the values of the profession.

These three areas are tied into our Strategic Plan goals of building public confidence, and enabling the Law Society to lead the rest of the country in being a model regulator.

This work is part of our regulatory toolbox. As we gain experience in the risk management approach, we may well find other areas of risk which we need to identify, understand and manage. But we think that with these three approaches, we are well along our responsibility of protecting the public.

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