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At the February 2019 Board meeting, the introduction of a part-time membership fee pilot program was approved.
Our exploration of implementing part-time fees was motivated by requests from Alberta lawyers; data gathered from our exit surveys and the Retention & Re-engagement Task Force Report; as well as from our own goals in support of furthering equity, diversity and inclusion within the profession and supporting access to justice for the public. This initiative was focused on retention in private practice.
We conducted a survey in Fall 2018 with the profession. We heard from 1,043 survey respondents and 84 per cent were in favour of implementing a part-time membership option. More details about our engagement with the profession about part-time fees are available in this report.
Not everyone wants to, or is able to, practise full-time. Lawyers may have family duties, health issues or other reasons for why they would choose to practise part-time.
These pressures disproportionately affect female lawyers. Attrition of women in private practice is much higher than men. Part-time fees are a potential tool to help address this issue. For example, female lawyers may be more likely to return to private practice after maternity leave if they can ease into it on a part-time basis with a reduced membership fee.
Part-time status may also assist internationally trained lawyers, pre-retirement lawyers and lawyers with medical concerns or other priorities.
At the time of our engagement with the profession about part-time fees (Fall 2018), no other law society in Canada had a part-time membership fee. Some jurisdictions, such as Ontario, have variable membership fees where lawyers can receive discounts on their membership fee if they are on medical or parental leave. There is not, however, any structured annual part-time membership fee for a part-time practice.
Other common law jurisdictions have more robust part-time fee initiatives. See a snapshot in this infographic.
In New Zealand, private practice lawyers can obtain a 50% rebate on their membership fees if they have: (i) a gross income below $40,000 (ii) legal services is their main source of income for the year; and (iii) they work fewer than 20 hours a week in that same period.
Great Britain has a sliding membership fee scale that is based on a combination of individual membership fees and a firm wide practice fee called “turnover”, which is related to the firm’s revenues. The higher the firm revenues the higher the firm practice fee. Firms with lower revenues will typically pay a lower practice fee for each lawyer.
Australia does not have part-time membership fees, but many Australian jurisdictions have a part-time insurance fee. These part-time insurance fees use a mixture of hours and income caps. For example, Australia’s Northern Territory has a part-time insurance premium for lawyers working less than 15 hours per week. The discount is approximately 20% off the regular premium. The Northern Territory also provides discounts based on a lawyer’s net income. The discount varies from roughly 75% off the regular insurance premium for lawyers making under $20,000 per year to a 20% discount off the regular insurance premium for lawyers making between $35,000-50,000 per year.
Will the discount for part-time fees have enough of a financial impact to retain lawyers in private practice?
The Law Society is optimistic that the part-time fee pilot will have a positive impact on lawyer retention. Lawyers have reported that the cost of membership fees and insurance are a considerable contributor to attrition in private practice.
We recognize that the part-time membership fee savings alone may not be substantial enough to drive a decision to stay in practice. Yet, changing the membership fee is an important first step that is within the jurisdiction of the Law Society. The data collected on part-time status could be helpful in the potential exploration of a part-time insurance levy.
This initiative is about more than the discount. It is a key step to addressing the larger issue of lawyer retention in private practice and calls from the profession to accommodate a greater range of flexible work arrangements.
Encouraging lawyers to stay in practice, even part-time, could expand the pool of lawyers available to assist the public with legal matters. It is a loss to the profession and the public when skilled lawyers leave because of issues around practice flexibility and finances.
After extensive engagement with the profession, part-time membership has been defined as a lawyer in private practice who works fewer than 20 hours per week on average and fewer than 750 hours per year in total on billable tasks, excluding pro bono work, and has gross billings of less than $90,000 per year globally.
The Law Society is reviewing this issue. Currently, the Law Society is only providing a part-time fee option to private practice lawyers. This initiative is focused on retention in private practice.
It is worth noting that most common law jurisdictions (Australia, for example) limit part-time fee programs to private practice lawyers, not in-house legal counsel.
Effective February 1, 2020, lawyers can select part-time status through the Lawyer Portal.
Lawyers who are currently active can select part-time status directly through the Lawyer Portal by certifying that they meet the part-time requirements.
Lawyers who are currently inactive and want to practise part-time should:
- Review the rules for reinstatement (The Rules of the Law Society of Alberta 115-118) to evaluate the requirements needed to reinstate;
- Submit an Application for Reinstatement; and,
- Select part-time status through the Lawyer Portal.
Students who applied online on April 1, 2019 or after who wish to practise part-time, can select part-time status on the Lawyer Portal once they are eligible to complete their bar call ceremony. Students who applied through a paper application will need to contact Membership to change their status to part-time.
Change of status is effective upon approval from the Law Society of Alberta. Lawyers with a part-time membership must track their hours and billable tasks to ensure they meet the part-time requirements.
Further details on the steps required to change status through the Lawyer Portal will be released in early February.
Lawyers with a part-time status who are not exempt from the mandatory indemnity program will still be required to pay the full assessment (as well as any applicable surcharges) to the Alberta Lawyers Indemnity Association (ALIA). A part-time levy is not an option at this time.
ALIA plans to consider the option of a part-time indemnity levy after the Law Society’s part-time practice fee pilot project has concluded and data collected from that pilot will be analyzed by ALIA’s actuary and Board.
What if I selected part-time status but no longer meet the part-time membership eligibility requirements?
If a lawyer who has selected part-time status recognizes that they have exceeded either the hours or billings requirement, they should change their status to full time immediately. A new pro-rated invoice will be issued following your status change.
If a lawyer does not change their status and it comes to the attention of the Law Society, the lawyer may be subject to disciplinary action.
The membership fee of those choosing a part-time status is half of the full-time membership fee. The full indemnity levy still applies to part-time membership.
How do I ensure that my part-time status is effective for the March 15, 2020 to March 15, 2021 membership cycle?
Complete your status change by no later than February 11 to ensure that you are invoiced for the correct amount for the March 15, 2020 to March 15, 2021 membership cycle.
If you do not choose your status by February 11, you will be issued an invoice for your pre-existing status. Changes to your status following February 11 can still be made through the Lawyer Portal, and adjustments to your invoice will be applied. See 2020-2021 Pro-Rated Part-time Fees Schedule.
How might the introduction of part-time membership impact my full-time membership fee and the Law Society budget?
For the purposes of the part-time fees pilot, there is no impact on the full-time membership fees. The Law Society will use the data gathered from the pilot to inform future budget considerations. For the purposes of our engagement with the profession in Fall 2018, we developed this projection infographic.