10.2 Code of Conduct and Rules of the Law Society of Alberta
While having a contingency plan is a best business practice, lawyers’ professional responsibilities make addressing certain issues mandatory.
What Do the Rules Say?
In Alberta, every firm must have a Responsible Lawyer approved by the Law Society to oversee its trust account and ensure the accuracy of the firm’s reporting (Rules of the Law Society of Alberta, Rule 119.1). A Responsible Lawyer must be an active member of the Law Society (Rule 119.4). If he or she is unable to discharge their duties, they must advise the Law Society at least 14 days in advance and ensure that a replacement has applied and been approved to take over (Rule 119.7).
When a lawyer is incapacitated without having an alternate Responsible Lawyer approved by the Law Society and has no plan to deal with that contingency, the void may place the Responsible Lawyer and their firm in breach of the Rules.
Responsible Lawyers are well-advised to have an alternate Responsible Lawyer approved to avoid such breaches and associated consequences, such as Late Filing Fees and possible administrative suspension if the Law Firm fails to submit its Annual Report by the March 31 Due Date.
What About the Code of Conduct?
The Code of Conduct requires lawyers to competently represent their clients. Clients are entitled to assume that their lawyer has the capacity to deal adequately with all matters undertaken on their behalf (Rule 3.1-2).
You must recognize limitations in your ability to handle legal matters and take steps to ensure your clients are appropriately served (Rule 3.1-1(h)).
A lawyer owes a duty of confidentiality to every client. They must hold in strict confidence all information concerning the client’s affairs and may not divulge it without the client’s permission (Rule 3.3-1).
You must make arrangements to safeguard your clients’ money and property (Rule 3.5-1).
You must withdraw if you are no longer competent to handle a matter. When that occurs, you must minimize expense and prejudice to the client and do all things to facilitate an orderly transfer of the file to other counsel (Rules 3.7-5 & 3.7-6).