The Advisory: Volume 10, Issue 2, April 2012

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Trust Safety Program Builds Public Confidence in Lawyers

By Jim Glass, QC, Bencher and Chair, Trust Safety Committee, Law Society of Alberta

In its first full year of operations, the Trust Safety program has successfully mitigated the risk related to financial loss arising from theft and errors.

Since it was launched, the Law Society has received over 1980 applications from law firms to operate/register a law firm. These also include the exemptions from operating a trust account as some law firms practise law without receiving or disbursing trust funds. Approximately 70 per cent of applications have been approved without conditions.

The program is in alignment with new trust accounting rules which seek to build on the best practices in place already at most law firms in Alberta.

The Law Society is committed to supporting lawyers in maintaining efficient and effective accounting systems to ensure trust funds held by Alberta lawyers remain safe from fraudulent schemes and losses due to weak internal accounting systems.

The new rules and program has been put in place as a result of numerous risks brought to the Law Society’s attention. The Trust Safety program has enabled lawyers to develop and maintain internal accounting systems to protect against those risks.

Money and Property Entrusted with Lawyers are Safe and Secure

The goals of the new Trust Safety program are to ensure money and property entrusted with a lawyer by the public is as safe and secure as they can be. There are no other professions or businesses in this country which are allowed to hold public money or property where the regulation thereof is less intrusive than the legal profession.

It is clear that there are billions and billions of dollars flowing through Alberta lawyers’ trust accounts on an annual basis. In Alberta, the Law Society is fortunate that there have been few issues related to misappropriation of trust funds or property. Other Law Societies in Canada, notably British Columbia and Newfoundland, have not been so fortunate. Rather than waiting for a catastrophic event to occur, the Law Society of Alberta chose to be proactive in enhancing its Trust Safety program with the over-arching goal of providing assurances to the public that their funds are safe in a lawyers’ trust account.

In order to achieve this goal, the Law Society has requested information of lawyers and law firms. It is important to note that in developing this program, the Law Society’s Trust Safety Committee has spent significant time reviewing programs in other jurisdictions and believes that it has delivered a program that reflects best practices.

This new program is among the most advanced integration strategies employed in the regulation of legal professions in the world. But most importantly, it continues to build the public confidence in lawyers to hold the money of others.

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