Entity regulation on the horizon for Prairie provinces

Law societies in Canada’s Prairie provinces are joining hands to charge ahead toward entity regulation in 2016.

Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba have together launched a public consultation paper on regulating legal service providers. The three provinces will consider submissions next year and hope to develop “a firmer idea” of what they’d like to do, according to Tom Schonhoffer, executive director of the Law Society of Saskatchewan.

“We are a large geographic country with a small population and, compared to other jurisdictions where regulatory reform is occurring, we have relatively few lawyers. This reality means that our resources are limited and it is strategically wise to share them,” the law societies said in the consultation paper.

They added: “It is also our view that a diversity of perspectives from different jurisdictions will achieve better, more effective outcomes. For these reasons, the law societies of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan are doing this work together. We are also keeping a close eye on developments across the country, particularly in Nova Scotia, Ontario and British Columbia where work is ongoing.”

Law societies across Canada are considering a shift from a regulatory system that focuses on individual lawyers to one that looks at the collective lawyers work in, whether that’s a law firm, an in-house legal department, or a legal aid organization Unlike the current regulatory model, which takes reactionary steps whenever lawyers engage in wrongdoing, regulators are considering a more proactive model that should help prevent transgressions in the first place.

If approved, the new approach would be goal-driven — the regulator would set of a set of desired outcomes and organizations can devise their own way to get there.

“We’re throwing it out there to the public and the profession and we’re looking for input from them,” says Schonhoffer.

Part of the reason for the collaboration between the Prairie provinces is also to harmonize whatever changes may come, he adds.

Schonhoffer says law societies feel emboldened by the Canadian Bar Association’s Futures report, which encouraged legal regulators to reimagine how the profession is governed in hopes of improving access to justice.

“They made these recommendations to the law societies and said, ‘You ought to have a look at this’ and so we take that very seriously,” Schonhoffer says.

In the consultation paper, the Prairie law societies say there are numerous benefits of compliance-based regulation, including an incentive to be innovative in the delivery of legal services. But there are also some concerns.

“The principal concern is that as compliance-based regulation is focused on outcomes rather than rules, there is more ambiguity and less certainty for firms as to what they must actually do to achieve compliance,” says the consultation report. “Generally, lawyers prefer to know exactly what they are required to do rather than figuring it out by themselves.”

Want to know more about entity regulation and what it means? Check out Canadian Lawyer’s Entity regulation — whaaaat?” cover story from October.

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