Updated October 1, 2014
Practice Audits fall under the Practice Management Review process legislated as part of the 1999 amendments to the Law Society Act, ss.41–49 together with By–Law 11 on Professional Competence, and Rule 3.01 of the Paralegal Rules of Conduct.
All practice management reviews, including practice audits, are proactive and preventative — designed to support the goals of Law Society licensees to be efficient, effective and competent — and reflect the Society's emphasis on quality assurance in service of the public interest. The reviews are remedial and consultative, as they involve the licensee, the reviewer and Practice Review staff every step of the way.
Paralegal participants are selected randomly from all licensees holding a P1 license.
While the Practice Review program is administered and co-ordinated by Law Society staff, the actual assessment and reporting is completed by either a roster of experienced lawyers (external reviewers) or one of the Law Society's Counsel, Practice Review (in-house).
Counsel, Practice Review and the paralegal begin their discussions by completing the Paralegal Basic Management Checklist, a practice analysis tool which assists in identifying possible deficiencies in the practice. Counsel, Practice Review will also conduct a review of client files and may speak with other office staff or associates.
Practice management skills are the focus of a practice audit, but it also includes an assessment of ongoing compliance with financial record-keeping requirements (By–Law 9). On-site guidance is aimed at helping the paralegal establish or remediate practice management systems and correct financial record-keeping practices before any such deficiencies adversely affect service to clients or lead to serious non-compliance or misconduct issues.
Throughout the review the paralegal will receive practical advice and feedback. Risk areas will be identified and strategies for remediation will be discussed. In an effort to assist the paralegal with prompt remediation of risk areas, matters requiring action are identified during the course of the review. The paralegal will also be directed to resources on point.
Where the review is of a paralegal not responsible for firm management issues, and deficiencies are noted in firm-wide systems, these matters will be addressed directly with the responsible partner.
Areas of review may include:
- tickler system
- recording/docketing of time
- task list - current/future
- calendar control system
- listening/interviewing skills
File Management/Client Service
- # open files
- opening/closing file procedure
- efficient filing system/organization (both manual and electronic)
- file storage - procedure/length of time
- file destruction
- conflicts check
- office manual - procedures and systems
- client intake, action, closure
- knowledge & skill (legal principles, procedures and substantive law)
- Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
- confidentiality - where to keep your files
- writing and drafting skills
- avoiding the 'ghost' client
- engagement letters
- non-engagement letters
- giving Independent Legal Advice for matters within scope
- managing client expectations
- handling client complaints
- improving writing skills
- fees and billings
- record and bookkeeping
- billings - fees & disbursements
- controls for accounts payable & receivable
- trust accounts
- managing expectations
- following client instructions
- responding to client's telephone calls
- keeping client reasonably informed
- replying within a reasonable time
- informing client about the position of a matter
- handling the telephone
- handling mail and e-mail
Technology and Equipment
- document templates
- library and research resources
- document transmission ( e-mail, fax, scanner, web)
- co-op students
- paralegal field placement students
- support staff
- training & support
- Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
- partnership and other business arrangement agreements
- health and fitness
- Member Assistance Program (MAP)
- outside interests
- coping with stress
- recognizing chemical dependencies
- recognizing depression
Opinion on Competence
Following the attendance, the reviewer prepares a report containing an analysis and assessment of the practice, including recommendations for appropriate remedies. Given the number of engagements annually and the length of the reports, a copy of the report is typically released to the paralegal roughly two months after the reviewer's attendance. The report may include recommendations for improvements and enhancements to current practice management systems, or may include mandatory recommendations where action is required to ensure that the paralegal meets standards of competence.
If the report is a final report, an opinion on competence will be rendered. The paralegal will be asked to provide a response to the Practice Review Department confirming that they have reviewed the report, providing any comments on the report and providing details of the implementation of all mandatory recommendations and a response with respect to any discretionary recommendations.
If the report is an initial report, then a re-attendance will be scheduled after six months. The paralegal will be asked to provide a detailed response to the Practice Review Department and the re-attendance will permit an assessment of the implementation of mandatory recommendations made in the initial report and the completion of the Practice Audit.
If there are no recommendations made, or where the Practice Review Department is satisfied with the paralegal's implementation of any mandatory recommendations made, the file will be closed.
If at the first attendance or following the second attendance the paralegal is failing to meet the standards of competence required pursuant to section 41 of the Law Society Act, then Practice Review may ask the paralegal to enter into a Proposal Order or may be obliged to refer the matter to Professional Regulation.
For more details on the Practice Audit program, access our Frequently Asked Questions or view the Professional Development Competence & Admissions Committee Report to Convocation dated June 22, 2006 and the Report of the Paralegal Standing Committee to Convocation dated October 30, 2008.