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Before beginning to operate its law practice, a law firm in Alberta must obtain, and thereafter maintain, approval from the Law Society for the designation of a responsible lawyer (RL) within the firm and the authorization to operate a trust account.
If a law firm does not require a trust account to operate, they may apply for an exemption from operating a trust account in accordance with Rule 119.13 of the Rules of the Law Society of Alberta.
Responsible Lawyer Accountabilities
As an RL, you have the key accountability for the trust accounting and safety of your firm. You are responsible for:
- overseeing all the trust and general transactions of your firm and ensuring they comply with the Rules;
- all trust money and property received from a client;
- ensuring all required records are maintained and accounts are reconciled monthly; and,
- submitting the required annual reporting.
Applying to Become a Responsible Lawyer
To be an RL or a secondary RL, a lawyer must:
- Be an active member of the Society that is either:
- covered by the professional liability indemnity program;
- covered by equivalent insurance in another province; or,
- exempt under Rule 148(1)(b);
- Be covered by the misappropriation indemnity program or equivalent insurance in another province; and,
- Reside in Canada
If you want to operate a trust bank account, you must complete and submit the Application to Designate a Responsible Lawyer and Operate a Trust Account.
If you do not want to operate a trust bank account, you must complete and submit an Application for Exemption form.
Responsible Lawyer Approval Protocol
Our Trust Safety Responsible Lawyer and Trust Account Approval Protocol was developed as a reference for you regarding the RL application process. It provides information on the requirements set out in the Rules, factors that are considered in both applications and revocations, the process to follow to apply, and appeals.
Required Courses and Education Programs
The Law Society, in conjunction with the Legal Education Society of Alberta (LESA) has developed three free online courses that the RL must take before being approved by the Law Society:
- Trust Accounting Fundamentals (Module I)
- Trust Accounting for Responsible Lawyers (Module II)
- Client Identification and Verification Rules
The online courses can be found on the LESA website.
When you have completed the courses, email Trust Safety your three certificates of completion to continue to move the application process forward.
For technical support with logging in, contact LESA at 1.800.282.3900.
Our Learning Centre also includes additional education on Trust Account Essentials, Accounting Systems, Trust Filings and Rules, and Client Identification and Verification.
As per Rule 119.8, a law firm may receive or disburse trust funds on behalf of a lawyer who is not part of the law firm. Please see Application of Rule 119.8 – Responsible Lawyer Acting on behalf of another Responsible Lawyer for additional guidance.
Only a lawyer practising with a law firm approved to operate a trust account is permitted to receive trust money, unless a specific alternate arrangement is approved by the Executive Director or Manager, Trust Safety, where:
- A lawyer approved as a responsible lawyer is permitted to receive trust money that will be held in the trust account of a law firm approved to operate a trust account where he or she is not practising; or,
- A law firm approved to operate a trust account is permitted to hold trust money received by a lawyer approved as a responsible lawyer, who is not practising with that law firm.
This arrangement may be entered into only when a lawyer is approved as an RL but exempt from operating a Trust Account. View the application form here.
Lawyers who apply for an exemption from operating and maintaining a trust account are required to satisfy the Law Society that they have made adequate arrangements with another lawyer or law firm for the receipt of trust funds.
This arrangement may not be used to administer real estate file matters.
Start Up Reporting Requirements
As a condition of your RL approval, you may also be required to submit a Start Up Report within four months of your RL approval to demonstrate your compliance with the prescribed financial records rules.