In 1972, a group of west coast legal professionals formed the Vancouver Association of Legal Administrators, or VALA, to develop and promote an emerging profession: law office management. Together, these leaders carved out an inclusive society that created opportunities to communicate, collaborate, and network for the mutual benefit of their respective firms. VALA held monthly meetings, and established a membership conference soon after, most recently hosted in Richmond, Whistler and Victoria.
In 1982, VALA became an official chapter of the ten-year-old Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) in the US, and eventually sent two of its own on to the international board. Both of these important milestones helped VALA’s credibility soar and brought with it the value of knowledge-sharing, trouble-shooting, and alliances across the profession – both in-province and cross-border.
VALA took another impressive leap by initiating the strategic sharing of administrative and operative data, helping law firm leaders expand their knowledge and help advance their firms and personnel, competitively. Today, law firm leaders continue to develop essential information bases and reports for the association. VALA’s Law Firm Economics Survey became a model for similar such surveys across Canada. Throughout, the association worked together with the Canadian Bar Association’s BC Branch with an ongoing mandate of collecting strategic law firm data indicators to create benchmarks for – among others – salaries and lawyer/staff ratios. That collaboration continues today.
Subsections formed with the purpose of intense focus on emerging areas of law firm operations. The Finance subsection was created in 1984, followed by Human Resources, and Technology. In the late 1980’s, the Marketing subsection and the Office Services subsection (now known as Facilities and Services Management) were established. Small Firms commenced in the early 1990’s. The Knowledge Management and Trainers subsections ensued. Today, all subsections represent the core strength of the association as law firm roles become more specialized.
In 1985, VALA launched the TOPICS newsletter and quickly set the standard for ALA chapter newsletters. TOPICS won awards in the early 1990’s for design, writing, and best all-around newsletter for chapters of our size.
The BCLMA has always enjoyed a cooperative relationship with vendors. From the early days when vendors spoke at education meetings and advertised in the newsletter to the mid-1990’s when vendor relationships matured and suppliers became sponsors by providing financial support of educational and social functions. As a non-profit society, the BCLMA has always valued the generous sponsorship vendors offer to help the association thrive and its members develop.
In 1998, VALA moved into the internet age with the launch of its own website.
In 2004, the BCLMA ended chapter status with ALA, which – in parallel – allowed our local membership to grow. Over the past decade, the BCLMA and the ALA has upheld its cooperative relationship and occasionally meets in Canada or the US to discuss trends, share tips and tricks, and maximize respective lessons learned.
The next big milestone was the name change. To reflect our membership beyond the city limits of Vancouver, VALA became the BCLMA – the British Columbia Legal Management Association – in 2005.
Throughout, members also have fun. The annual social events held in winter and summer grow bigger every year, giving law firm professionals the chance to meet, greet, and toast one another’s accomplishments – both within their firms, and across the industry.
Over the years, the BCLMA has evolved to keep pace with the changing landscape. TOPICS is an online publication, subsection meetings have started making headway with live-streaming, recording, and will soon post meetings to the external website, and the website is assessed and updated regularly to make sure it always serves its members fully and with ease. Membership has grown, and the association has matured to include all levels of law firm ownership, including lawyers, administration, staff, alumni, and honorary members.
We look forward to many more achievements in the years to come.