The Advisory: Volume 10, Issue 1, January 2012

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Executive Director’s Report

Online Policies and Programs Support Sole Practitioners and Small Firm Lawyers

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

Recognizing the unique challenges faced by sole practitioners and small firm lawyers practising in areas outside Edmonton and Calgary, the Law Society has endeavored to provide as many supports online as possible.

Most of the Law Society’s programs, policies and supports are available online through its website, and its new Solonet pilot project.

The face of the legal profession is changing. The numbers of women entering law school and entering the profession is growing in small increments. Of the 8,742 active lawyers, the percentage of women has grown to 36% at the end of 2011 from 34% in 2008.

At the end of 2011, the number of lawyers who work as sole practitioners and in small firms has increased. There were 1,766 sole practitioners at the end of 2011, up from 1,285 sole practitioners in 2008. The numbers of lawyers in small firms increased to 1,600 at the end of 2011 from 1,200 lawyers in small firms in 2008.

There has been an increase in the number of sole practitioners and small firms working in Edmonton and Calgary, and not in smaller Alberta communities. At the end of 2011, 21% of sole practitioners worked outside of these metropolitan areas, down from 35% of sole practitioners who worked outside Edmonton and Calgary in 2008. At the end of 2011, 23% of lawyers in small firms work in areas outside Edmonton and Calgary, down from 34% of small firm lawyers in 2008.

The Law Society is aware that lawyers practising outside of Calgary and Edmonton face many wide-ranging unique challenges. Some of these include travelling long distances, lack of access to administrative and legal supports, lack of access to continuing legal education and information. There are also challenges in taking on articling students.

In the spring of 2011, the Retention and Re- Engagement Task Force engaged Guyn Cooper Research Associates to survey lawyers practising in smaller Alberta communities to identify their challenges, and to obtain feedback on ways the Law Society may be able to assist.

The findings of the survey detail some of the issues faced by practitioners in Alberta’s smaller communities which may contribute to potential attrition and access to justice challenges for Albertans living outside of Edmonton and Calgary. The Law Society recognizes that these are barriers to citizens seeking to obtain legal services.

The Law Society is committed to supporting sole practitioners and lawyers working in small firms through its programs such as:

  • Practice Advisors, and Practice Management supports,
  • Mentor Program,
  • the SoloNet online network for sole practitioners and small firm lawyers, and
  • model policies and guidelines for law firms which are on the Law Society’s website.

An important resource for sole practitioners and small firm lawyers is the Assist program which is offered by the Alberta Lawyers’ Assistance Society that is independent from the Law Society of Alberta. Assist helps Alberta lawyers, articling students and their immediate families cope with personal issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, addictions.

Did you know?

  • In communities of less than 10,000 residents, 52% of survey respondents were sole practitioners, compared to 38% in communities with 10,000 – 20,000 residents
  • Most respondents reported that they operate general practices, providing legal services in many areas of law.
  • 94% of respondents had not hired an articling student in the past five years, with the barriers being: time required to supervise (36%), insufficient variety of work (37%) and inconsistent level of work (35%).

From the Report on the Findings of the Survey of Lawyers Practicing in Smaller Alberta Communities, Merrill Cooper, Guyn Cooper Research Associates Lt. June 29, 2011. (Survey completed by 230 lawyers.)

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