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We will all face a time in our lives when we need to plan for retirement. In other cases, lawyers may need to step away from practice temporarily.
This guide is intended to help lawyers navigate retiring or taking a leave of absence from practice. It does not apply to resignation applications for lawyers engaged in the conduct process.
The process of leaving practice requires advance planning. The Law Society has prepared a checklist to identify the necessary steps.
If you are a lawyer who wants to step away from practice while continuing to be a member of the Law Society, you may apply to become an inactive member.
As an inactive member, you will not be entitled to practice law, you are still permitted to act as a Notary Public or Commissioner for Oaths. The fee for inactive members is significantly lower than the active member fee, and inactive lawyers are not required to pay the professional liability indemnity levy.
You may apply for inactive status by submitting:
- An Election to Become an Inactive Member (Form 2-20).
- Inactive membership fee (Fee Schedule)
- If you are the Responsible Lawyer for your firm, you will be required to demonstrate that you have closed your trust account.
- You must advise the Law Society of the location of all closed files and confirm current files are with an active lawyer.
If you are an active member switching to inactive status, you may be eligible for a partial refund of your active membership fee. The indemnity levy is not refundable. Please review the Membership Refund Policy. Contact Customer Service for more information.
If you are a lawyer who has been an active member of the Law Society for 25 years, or are 70 years of age, you may apply to become an inactive or retired member. If you have been a Judge or a Master in Chambers, the time spent in that role will count toward your 25 years of practice. As a retired member, you cannot provide legal services and do not pay the annual membership or the indemnity coverage fees. You can still act as a Notary Public or Commissioner for Oaths.
You will still be a member of the Law Society, but will no longer receive Law Society communications, including notices to the profession and publications. To become an inactive-retired member, you must submit:
If you are a lawyer who wants to resign your Law Society membership altogether, you must close your trust accounts, submit a proof of trust account closure (a letter from the bank or a bank statement showing a balance of zero confirming your trust account(s) have been closed), close your General Account and submit an Application to Resign (Form 2-21).
If you are not facing conduct proceedings, you may apply to resign under section 32 of the Legal Profession Act and Rule 69 of the Rules of the Law Society.
If you are facing conduct proceedings, you must apply under section 61 or the Legal Profession Act and Rule 92. Resignations under this section are deemed disbarments. Section 61 resignations are not the subject of this guide.
All applications for resignation are reviewed and approved by the Benchers.
Lawyers and students must notify the Law Society of any changes to their contact information, including email addresses, business and residential addresses, and phone numbers.
The Rules of the Law Society of Alberta require prompt disclosure of this information immediately after any changes.
By updating your contact information, you enable the Law Society to communicate with you about important deadlines and filing dates. Your personal contact information will not be shared with the public. Be sure to advise the Law Society of any changes to your personal contact information while you are not practising.
Closing Your Practice
If you are changing to an inactive status, retiring or resigning your membership, you must notify the Law Society of how you intend to dispose of your open and closed client files. This information is requested on the applications.
Prior to becoming inactive, retiring or resigning, you must submit the following to Trust Safety:
- Final Law Firm Self-Report.
- Final Accounting Upload (ETTR) or Accountant’s Report.
- Proof of trust bank account closure (final bank statement or a memo from your bank).
- Undisbursable Trust Money form (if applicable).
You may leave your general account open after closing your practice to collect outstanding accounts and pay outstanding bills, although we recommend closing it after 30 days.
For more information about closing your trust account, please review Part 5 of The Rules of the Law Society of Alberta.
To serve as the Responsible Lawyer for your law firm, you must be an active member.
If you are no longer active, your status as Responsible Lawyer automatically ends and you must arrange for someone else to assume these responsibilities.
To do this, you need to submit an Application of Rule 119.2 – Responsible Lawyer Acting on Behalf of Another Responsible Lawyer to Trust Safety and ensure that the necessary steps are taken for that person to take over.
You must advise the Law Society’s Trust Safety department of your plans at least 14 days before you cease to be the Responsible Lawyer for your firm.
Your firm may be required to file a final Law Firm Self-Report within 14 days of your departure. Please contact Trust Safety to find out if this applies to your firm.
If these steps are not taken, your firm’s ability to use its trust account may be withdrawn, so it is crucial that you do not overlook this transition when stepping away from active practice.
You will need to consider the following steps before retiring, resigning or becoming inactive. The following guidance is also a useful checklist for a lawyer facing an imminent suspension.
Before leaving practice, you must deliver the following to another active lawyer or a custodian of your practice
- all open and closed client files.
- corporate seals and corporate record books.
- wills and other testamentary instruments, powers of attorney, enduring powers of attorney and personal directives.
- money held on deposit in every trust account, as well as securities, shares and other negotiable instruments held in trust.
- trust and general accounting records, unused general and trust cheques, receipt books and other prescribed financial records, including anything in electronic format that was kept in your name or that of your professional corporation.
- all keys, locks, security access devices and codes that would give you or your employees access to any premises from which your practice is conducted, including off-site storage facilities.
- all computers, telephones and other office equipment and software (including passwords and access codes) that your replacement or the custodian may reasonably need to manage your practice.
You must also:
- cancel your signing authority on all trust and general accounts.
- if anyone contacts you or your firm, you must provide the contact information of the custodian or lawyer to whom you have delivered your clients’ files and money, or other property held in trust.
Do not forget to forward telephone calls and email to the lawyer taking over your practice. Clients should not be left guessing about the fate of their files when they can no longer reach you by phone or email.
When a lawyer ceases practice for any reason, Rule 2.32 of the Rules of Court states that they automatically cease to be the lawyer of record in any actions before the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta or the Court of Appeal.
Advise the court and opposing counsel if any previously scheduled questioning, motions or hearings need to be rescheduled.
You will need to contact all clients with active files. Let them know:
- you will not be able to continue to act for them and that they need to retain another lawyer.
- how and when they can pick up their file.
- if possible, the contact information of another lawyer who might be able to take over their case.
- any limitations or other important dates.
- any steps they need to take on their file.
Have your client sign an authorization to transfer their file and trust funds, if applicable, to their new lawyer, if they have one.
If they pick up their file, have them sign an acknowledgement when they receive it.
If they do not retrieve their file or tell you what to do with it, give them the contact information of the lawyer or custodian who is responsible for holding their file and any money or other property you were holding in trust for them.
When you leave practice, it is important to understand who owns the content of your files. For a more detailed review of this issue, please see File Retention and Document Management.
Consider whether, and how much, of a client’s file you wish to copy before releasing it. You cannot charge your client for making your copy. Contact the Practice Advisor’s Office if you have any questions.
You must have active practicing status to provide legal services to clients or to your corporate or government employer. When you leave practice, you must be cautious when you are in contact with your former clients or members of the public. There are additional rules affecting those who have been suspended or disbarred. You should also consult the mobility rules if you are active in another province but providing legal services in Alberta after you are no longer an active member here.
The Legal Profession Act states that, unless a person is an active member of the Society, they are prohibited from:
- practicing as a barrister and a solicitor.
- acting as a barrister and solicitor in any court of civil or criminal jurisdiction.
- commencing, carrying on or defending any action or proceeding before a court or judge on behalf of any other person.
- settling or negotiating in any way for the settlement of any claim for loss or damage founded in tort.
You may not represent that you are entitled to practice unless you are an active practicing member.
When you no longer have active and practicing status, you may not:
- contact clients except as provided below.
- create new lawyer-client relationships.
- appear on behalf of clients before any court, tribunal, or administrative body performing any judicial or quasi-judicial function.
- render any legal services or take any action that assists or results in the continued operation and management of your firm.
- must not receive money or other property in trust from or on behalf of others.
If you have been suspended or disbarred, you must not:
- work as a paralegal or perform any functions usually completed by an articling student, law clerk, legal assistant, research assistant or legal secretary. This includes drafting corporate resolutions and preparing and filing annual returns.
- be retained or employed in any capacity in connection with practicing law or providing legal services.
- occupy space or act as partner or associate with any other active member of the Law Society.
After a suspension or disbarment and until you return to active status, other lawyers need Bencher approval to use your services or to employ you in any capacity associated with the practice of law.
When you are no longer entitled to practice, you may:
- see clients for the limited purpose of helping them transfer their legal work or property to a custodian or to another active lawyer.
- render accounts for work completed before the date of your suspension, undertaking not to practice or election to go inactive.
- collect accounts receivable.
You may act as a notary public or commissioner for oaths as long as you are a member of the Law Society, even when you are inactive or retired. You may not do so if you have resigned, or have been suspended or disbarred.