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The Advisory: Volume 9, Issue 3, December 2011


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A Neutral Corner

A Critical Illness Checklist Key to Minimizing any Practice Disruption

By Jocelyn Frazer, Equity Ombudsperson, Law Society of Alberta

Consistent with the theme of this issue “Managing Risk”, all lawyers, regardless of the stage that they are at in their career, or the setting in which they practice, should have a plan in place to ensure that client interests are protected in the event of their sudden illness, death, incapacity or impairment.

Conversations with lawyers regarding the impact on their practice of a sudden illness, whether it relates to their own health, or that of a family member, confirm the strain on a practice if there is no adequate plan in place and the risks to client interests. Essential information relating to client matters and the ongoing obligations of the practice must be able to be interpreted by an assisting lawyer regardless of whether that is a partner, spouse, associate, friend or formal custodian. For a lawyer in a small firm setting or sole practice, it is particularly important to have arrangements in place for another lawyer to step in and ensure that clients are not prejudiced and that your staff and family are not placed in an overwhelming position.

Where there is time to plan, taking the time to create and maintain an office procedure manual or a practice disruption binder outlining key aspects of your practice and a list of all law office contacts can make an otherwise stressful time a little more manageable.

The Alberta Lawyers Cancer Support Group created a Critical Illness Checklist as a guide to the issues that should be considered where a lawyer is required to be away from their practice on short notice due to a sudden diagnosis or other debilitating circumstances. That checklist and others dealing with succession planning are available on the Law Society website at: http://www.lawsociety.ab.ca/lawyers.

Recent changes to trust accounting rules require additional steps to be considered. For example, Rule 119.21 requires Law Society approval before a lawyer who is not a member of the law firm can be granted signing authority over a law firm’s trust account. Where the lawyer in question is the Responsible Lawyer for the firm, consideration should be given to having a replacement responsible lawyer put in place (see Rule 119.7).

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