By Ian Burns for The Lawyer's Daily
The Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC) has been given a year to ensure articled students in B.C. are protected by provincial employment standards legislation.
The move comes after a resolution was adopted at the law society’s annual general meeting (AGM) on Oct. 6 which requires benchers to amend LSBC rules and its code of professional conduct to require articled student agreements provide “at least” the rights and protections offered under Employment Standards Act provisions on minimum wage, hours of work and recognition of statutory holidays.
The resolution, which passed by a vote of 1,567-1,163, with 187 abstentions, also requires the law society to ensure articled students can seek financial redress for practices which may contravene the amended rules. Chase Blair, one of the co-sponsors of the resolution, said a lack of regulation has led some students to take on unpaid articles or ones that pay below minimum wage.
“This is unacceptable, particularly because the cost of living has spiked in recent decades and the average cost of law school tuition has tripled since 2000,” said Blair. “Paying articled students adequately for their time and labour benefits articled students by increasing their financial well-being, improving their mental health and consequently their productivity. Adequately compensated, mentally well articled students are less likely to make mistakes, which furthers the public interest as well.”
Blair said the resolution would not prohibit working overtime or on holidays, but simply require articled students to be compensated fairly for their time.
“The law society has many tools at its disposal to ensure articled students have basic labour rights, varied articled experiences and adequate compensation,” said Blair. “Basic labour protections will contribute to the success of articled students, legal employers and the profession in B.C.”
A second motion adopted at the meeting directed benchers to amend law society rules to confirm that lawyers who are providing services as mediators, arbitrators and parenting co-ordinators are engaged in the practice of law and can deposit retainers into their trust accounts. The move came on the heels of an e-brief issued by the law society in February which said client identification and trust rules do not generally apply to lawyers who act as mediators or arbitrators.
The AGM was the law society’s first held entirely online, and the second year in which advance online voting was allowed after procedural changes were adopted in 2019. LSBC president Craig Ferris said 2020 has “been a year of challenge and opportunity for benchers.”
“COVID-19 has, to make a huge understatement, presented a unique challenge but it has also opened up opportunity for real reform to our justice system,” he said. “Working with other participants in our justice system we have been able to establish new procedures to allow the justice system to operate and maintain a level of operation during this pandemic.”
Bencher Christopher McPherson was named second vice-president for 2021. Per law society rules, he will become first vice-president in 2022 and then assume the position of president in 2023. McPherson, who was first elected bencher in 2016, is a prosecutor who also serves as chair of the law society’s rule of law and lawyer independence advisory committee.
Final vote results from the AGM can be found here.