Part-Time Membership Fees Survey

The Law Society is exploring the possibility of offering part-time practising fees. There are a variety of reasons why lawyers may not want or be able to engage in fulltime practice: they may have child care or elder care responsibilities, health problems or other concerns that only allow them to practise part-time. These lawyers currently pay full-time fees but work part-time hours and earn less money.

We are looking at how a part-time fee structure could work but we have not made any decisions yet. In October of 2020, we invited the profession to provide us with their feedback on whether the Law Society should offer part-time pracising fees for those who work part-time hours, and if so, what an appropriate model might look like. Articling students, practising, non-practising and inactive members were all asked to participate in this survey.

Thank you for your input, and we look forward to providing an update on this LSM Initiative soon.

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Part-Time Membership Fees Survey FAQs

In 2019 the Benchers of the Law Society of Manitoba (LSM) were asked  by the Manitoba Bar Association’s Women Lawyers’ Forum to consider recognizing part-time status by offering discounted fees for lawyers who practice part-time. The basis for the request was that lawyers who practice part-time are disproportionately young mothers who reduce their hours of work to care for their children, making it difficult to earn enough income to cover their fees and insurance and causing some to leave the profession.

One of the LSM’s strategic objectives is promoting and improving equity, diversity and inclusion in the regulation of the legal profession and in the delivery of legal services. Considering a discounted practicing fee for lawyers who choose to practice part-time is a way of recognizing that not all lawyers fit the traditional model of full-time practice. The Benchers recognize that there are a number of reasons lawyers may choose to practice part-time, whether to accommodate child care or elder care responsibilities or because they have health issues. For that reason the Benchers have decided to consider more broadly some options for part-time membership and are seeking input from members. Exploring these options is consistent with the LSM’s commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. It is important to emphasize that no final decisions have been made at this point.

Not everyone wants to, or is able to, practice full-time. Lawyers may have family duties, health issues or other reasons for why they would choose to practice 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 lawyers with medical concerns, internationally trained lawyers, pre-retirement lawyers and or lawyers with other priorities.

There are a number of factors to be considered and at this point we do not know. The LSM is seeking the profession’s input on the amount of the potential discount in the part-time fees survey.

Manitoba is covered under the Canadian Lawyers Insurance Association (CLIA). CLIA provinces do not have the ability to individually underwrite given the relatively small size of the program. There are an insufficient number of insured lawyers in all of CLIA to subsidize a discounted insurance levy for part-time lawyers. At this time a part-time insurance levy is not an option.

The LSM would likely require a lawyer claiming a part-time fee status to declare or sign an undertaking that they will abide by the terms and conditions of the part-time status. Breaching a declaration or undertaking to the LSM carries severe consequences.

The LSM is still considering how it might define part-time practice. Some of the options that have been identified would define this status by: (i) a maximum billable hours cap, (ii) a maximum gross billings cap, (iii) a maximum billable hours and maximum gross billings cap, or (iv) a maximum billable hours and a maximum income earned through legal practice cap.

We are seeking the profession’s input on the most desirable definition in the part-time membership fees survey.

a. What do you mean by billable hours?

Hours would be defined to mean billable hours or time spent on billable tasks. It would not include time spent on pro bono work or time spent furthering and managing the business of the lawyer’s practice.

There will be provisions to allow lawyers to blend average hours worked over longer periods of time, so a lawyer will not be disqualified from part-time status for having one busy week or month.

It’s recognized that not all lawyers bill by the hour. These lawyers would need to track what they would consider to be “billable time” for the purpose of establishing their eligibility according to this criteria.

The goal of a billable hours cap is not to be burdensome and technical, but to accurately reflect a part-time practice.

b. What do you mean by gross billings?

Gross billings would be defined to mean the amount a lawyer bills, regardless of how much they collect.

The goal of a gross billings cap is not to create a financial accounting burden, but to accurately reflect a part-time practice.

Alberta has implemented a part-time practicing fee on a pilot basis for lawyers who work 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 have gross billings of less than $90,000 per year. Lawyers who qualify for part-time status will pay a membership fee that is reduced by 50%.

British Columbia and Ontario both offer a discount on insurance fees for lawyers who practice part-time. British Columbia uses an hours cap for lawyers to qualify for part-time insurance while Ontario uses an hours and income cap. The discount insurance fee for part- time status in both provinces is 50%. Ontario also has 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. No other law society in Canada has a part-time practicing fee.

Currently, the LSM is only considering providing a part-time fee option to private practice lawyers. This initiative is focused on retention in private practice.

Alberta has also limited part-time fees to lawyers in private practice.

The hope is that the proposed part-time fee initiative will have a positive impact on lawyer retention. As noted in question 1, lawyers have reported that the cost of membership fees and insurance are a considerable contributor to attrition in private practice.

A part-time membership fee savings alone may not be substantial enough to drive a decision to stay in practice. However 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.

The LSM always maintains a high standard of financial responsibility. To maintain a balanced budget, implementation of part-time fees for lawyers in private practice would likely require an increase to the membership fee for full-time lawyers.

Firstly, it is important to clarify that the Law Society has not made any final decisions, rather it is considering the options. It is difficult to predict the potential cost to full-time lawyers at this point and there are several variables to consider that could ultimately affect revenues, including: (i) the discount available for part-time fees, (ii) the number of lawyers who use a part-time fee initiative, and (iii) how effective the program is at facilitating retention in the profession.

It is a loss to the profession and the public when skilled lawyers leave because of issues around practice flexibility and finances. Encouraging lawyers to stay in practice, even part-time, could expand the pool of lawyers available to assist the public with legal matters, resulting in an increase in access to justice

Additional Questions

Contact  Alissa Schacter, Equity Officer and Policy Counsel at aschacter@lawsociety.mb.ca.