Contemplating a shift in focus
♫I’m your one stop shop
when you’re ready to drop
Any time you need me baby
Call me when the sun come shine
We be doing overtime...♫
– Music and Lyrics by
Tom Beasley, Employment Lawyer, has a problem. You see, over the last four years he has brought together diverse professionals with the goal to operate as a multi-disciplinary team who would work collaboratively and concurrently with clients to resolve complex workplace conflicts. But in BC, it is not currently possible to seamlessly operate this way within a single business entity.
Tom has formed a multi-disciplinary group, under the trademarked name RespectWorks with other professionals: Dr. Jennifer Newman (Workplace Psychologist) and Heather MacKenzie (Employment Lawyer, Workplace Investigator, Educator and Mediator). They bring in other professionals as needed, including Dr. Peter German (Lawyer and Investigator) and Lions Gate Risk Management (Workplace Risk Assessments). He would like this group to operate as a one-stop shop: a single business entity under a common brand. Currently, the only possible way this could happen is to form a multidisciplinary partnership (“MDP”).
However, the requirement in BC is that “all other services provided by the MDP must support or supplement the practice of law by the MDP is unworkable in his situation,” he says. Tom’s vision is that the new entity shifts its focus from the practice of law, to meeting the workplace needs of the client, which may or may not include legal services. These services could include advice on: employment relationship issues, including discipline and hiring, policy, accommodation, return to work, disability law, addictions, WorkSafeBC, occupational health and safety, leaves, contracts, retirement and termination, but may also integrate training and education, and organizational and leader development to assist clients in long term prevention of workplace crises and organizational health. This is neither your typical MDP nor law firm and as a one-stop shop, it is certainly not compatible with the present legal regulatory environment. As a result, each professional operates as a separate business entity, billing and collecting independently from each other. It is clunky and definitely not client centred.
It is too bad that Tom and his colleagues don’t practice in England and Wales. The Legal Services Act 2007 allowed the formation of Alternative Business Structures (“ABS”). There are now more than 450 ABSs. They range from traditional law firms who have added non-lawyer expertise to their board, to insurance companies, accountancy firms, local authorities and charities (The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (“SRA”) Publication: The Changing Legal Services Market).
The SRA also found that there is also emerging evidence that ABS are more likely to introduce new services and new ways of delivering services than traditional legal service providers.
Take BWL Consulting, for example. It is a multi-disciplinary construction business that has become an ABS, in part to reduce confusion among clients.
Paul Benson, director, said increasing the scope of legal services also meant the firm could become the “one-stop shop” that clients wanted.
“We’re a bit of a niche firm trying to do a few things very, very well. Can different professions work together? We think the answer is yes, in a one-stop shop.”
“It’s not so much about cost savings, though we price very competitively. Not having to go to more than one company makes clients’ lives easier. They’re getting all the expertise they need in the same place.”
Making client lives easier with one-stop shopping. An innovative idea…wonder if it could catch fire here?
The views expressed herein are strictly those of David Bilinsky and do not reflect the opinions of the Law Society of British Columbia, CBABC, or their respective members.
David J. Bilinsky is the Practice Management Advisor for the Law Society of British Columbia
(presently on leave).