Access to Legal Services in BC

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  • 06 Dec 2013 3:18 PM | CPI Admin (Administrator)
    Today is a good day for British Columbians! Their ability to access legal services has been greatly enhanced.

    First, the Law Society of BC benchers voted unanimously to accept the recommendation of the Access to Legal Services Task Force to look to regulating other providers, notably notaries and paralegals. AG Anton, who is an ex-officio member of the benchers, attended for the first time, witnessed the submission and debate of the recommendations of the task force. Expressing support of the bencher decision, she asked the benchers to submit their proposals that will require legislative changes as soon as possible. The road ahead will be fraught with challenges and risks, but not to take this road will have greater risks.

    Second, the Amici Curiae pro bono paralegal program, along with its partners the Ministry of Justice and Access Pro Bono BC, agreed to a pilot pleadings project in January 2014 which will allow our volunteers to assist the public in drafting pleadings and petitions without having first received legal advice. The drafts will still be reviewed by duty counsel before being given to the client.

    Finally, the Paralegal Litigation Users Group 4 (PLUG 4) will present their work to Supreme Court of BC Justice Victoria Gray on February 2014. Its project called for the drafting of Orders in plain language and in simple terms to aid self-represented litigants. There are two sets of Orders that will be submitted: Child Support and Spousal Support; and Guardianship, Parenting Time and Contact.

  • 12 Nov 2013 11:41 AM | CPI Admin (Administrator)


    Last November 1, 2013, Dom Bautista posed three access to legal services questions to the candidates in this year’s Law Society of BC bencher race in the following counties: Vancouver, Victoria, Westminster and Cariboo.

    Here is the list of candidates who responded:

    1. Pam Bhatti
    2. Craig A.B. Ferris
    3. Edmund Caissie
    4. John Gustafson
    5. Roxanne P. Helme
    6. Sharon Matthews, QC
    7. Daniele Poulin
    8. Elizabeth J. Rowbotham
    9. Laurence Scott
    10. Sandra Weafer

    The three questions:

    A. what is your position on access to legal services?

    B. what will you advocate that the LSBC do to ensure equality of access; and

    C. what should be the priority projects for access to legal services based on the current strategic plan of the LSBC?

    Click for here their responses.
     
  • 18 Jun 2013 11:27 AM | CPI Admin (Administrator)
    The field trips to the Vancouver courthouse are a staple to our Civil Litigation 102 class. Here, our students consistently observe the remarkable difference between the courts and how the Provincial Court is very much the peoples’ court. The court has been busy finalizing the details of its Provincial Court Scheduling Project (PCSP).

    Last March 31, 2013, Provincial Court of BC Associate Chief Judge Nancy Phillips provided the benchers with an update of their plan to simplify the front end of the criminal process and the introduction of a new PCSP of case assignment to courtrooms and judges. Officially announced and endorsed by Chief Judge Crabtree in August 2012, PCSP’s objectives are “to develop and implement scheduling practices that will make more efficient, effective and equitable use of judicial resources.” Her appearance that day was part of the court’s wish to engage justice system stakeholders to foster systemic change because courts should not be operating in a silo.

    In the spring of 2011, Chief Judge Crabtree commissioned a survey of innovative scheduling practices underway in North America.  The results of that analysis helped to inform the new model for scheduling now in development by their courts. The members of their judicial administration met to review their processes so that they could improve their practices to enhance the use of judicial resources.  Prior to the release of the Cowper Report and the other papers that were subsequently published by other stakeholders, the management committee of the Provincial Court of BC had already begun a critical review of their practices regarding judicial resources.  Through that review, it became apparent that there were deficiencies that could be fixed in order to make better use of judicial resources. This resulted in the PCSP.

    Associate Chief Judge Phillips outlined the project’s three key principles:
    • Flexibility – the new scheduling model will better enable the court to address inevitable last-minute developments on trials, reducing unused court time and delay and thereby increasing access to justice
    • Community equity – court schedules will be drawn to ensure communities have similar wait times-to-trial and that court resourcing standards in family, civil as well as criminal are
    monitored and addressed.
    • File management by counsel – in moving away from the CCFM Rule appearances, the Provincial Court is signaling a return of responsibility for file management to counsel.

    The new and dramatically simpler scheduling model
    features these elements:
    •Delaying the assignment of judges to cases and cases to courtrooms as a lot of cases settle;
    •Simplifying Criminal Front End Processes – non-adjudicative and uncontested appearances will be dealt with by Judicial Case Managers (JCMs) throughout the province;

    •Harnessing the use of video technology to assign judges as they become available when their cases collapse and they are able to assist elsewhere to conduct appropriate court work (e.g. family and civil case conferencing, bail and sentencing hearings).

    Sitting in eighty-two locations, they are aiming to be able to provide equity to the entire system so that it does not matter where you are, you should have about the same amount of waiting time to have your day in court.  The solution they came up with is the PCSP, most notably the trial streaming process. Without making things too cumbersome, cases that should take less than half a day will be sent en masse to a Summary Proceedings Court, where crown counsel (for criminal) and the court (for family and civil) can identify suitable and simple cases to the SPC.  Cases expected to take longer that half a day or longer, these will be sent for hearing to an assignment docket.

    Additionally, if that case is ready to proceed to a contested hearing, it will be moved to a feeder trial court. There will be a triage system in place that will attempt to deal with the simple cases quickly, which in turn should lead to the freeing up of judges. Then using technology, the judges could then be re-assigned to hear cases in other locations.

    The new assignment court model will be implemented on a staggered basis, sometime later this year to early 2014 within the ten busiest locations: Main Street in Vancouver, Surrey, Prince George, Kamloops, Port Coquitlam, Victoria, Abbotsford,  Robson Square, Kelowna and Nanaimo.

    The Assignment Court Model will provide the parties with an increased assurance of being heard regardless of not having more notice on who the judge will be. The related Provincial Crown File Ownership Project is expected to lead to an increase in early case resolution and a concomitant increase in day of trial certainty. The assignment court process itself is expected to better enable the court to cope with the inevitable collapse of cases still expected to occur on the trial date.  This is a paradigm shift for counsel, who are used to relying on knowing who the judge is as part of their trial preparation.

    To increase the likelihood of its success, the court has sought input from the stakeholders and has spoken to a number of groups. “While change is always difficult, for the most part counsel have been supportive of the new scheduling model and expect to be able to shepherd their cases through the revised process more effectively.”

    She was grateful for the participation and candor that the lawyers have given the court. She is also speaking at the Annual Paralegal and Support Staff Conference on September 27 2013.

    The court has also released the video to help users
    understand the new project: http://vimeo.com/65233254

    Setting aside the obligation of courts to maintain their independence, impartiality and fairness for a moment, the PCSP is a reflection of the provincial court’s recognition that a difference exists between the capacities, challenges and the needs of SRLs and those who are better resourced. This scheme represents a marked shift in focus from those who deliver justice to the consumers of justice and the court should be applauded for doing so. !

    Dom Bautista is the executive director of Law Courts Center.
  • 01 May 2013 4:52 PM | CPI Admin (Administrator)
    "You will need a transportation pass each time you need to do a transaction, unless you are going to school,” said the facilitator from United Way Manitoba. With that, 200 people, including me, participated in the Reality Check simulation as part of the opening event of the three day CBA Envisioning Equal Justice Summit conference last April 25, 2013. Like the 3.2 million Canadians who live below the poverty line, we were tasked with surviving for a month: making sure we had food and that we paid for our bills which included utility bills, bank loans and a mortgage. I was also told to find a job as my EI benefits had run out. Lastly, if possible, we were to try and better our economic situation. Each 15 minute period represented a week.

    I played Charles Chan, an unemployed computer programmer.  My wife Connie (played by Ms Jill Dempster of the Ministry of AG) was thankfully employed, while my daughter, who was in Grade 11, was pregnant and I also had two other children to feed.

    We had six transportation tickets, and so my strategy was pretty simple: Connie needed five to go to work, I needed one to go the bank to get some cash and I sent the children to school. This
    simulation was going to be easy.

    Was I ever wrong!

    After the bank clerk took my transportation pass, I gave her my pass book and asked for all my money. She looked at her ledger and said: “Mr Chan, thank you for coming in to pay back some of your loan, you now only owe us $300.” Stunned, I said: “Wait a minute, I need to buy food. Can you at least give me $100?” The clerk shook her head and said: “Nope! Next person please.”

    I went to legal aid to see if they can help me file a complaint to someone about how the bank just took my money. “Come back next week to see a lawyer, bring your documents with you.” the receptionist said. I ask how long will it take, and she said: “a couple months maybe but who knows?” Well what I learned was this: legal aid and the courts: they are complicated and full of rules. I have barely enough time to find money to feed my children, and even if I can not afford a lawyer, who would represent me anyway to get my $200 from the bank, surely there must be another way?

    My world just crashed!

    Across the room was social services and dejectedly, I walked over to tell the clerk my sad tale. "I am so sorry to hear that Mr Chan, but not to worry, I can help you, we have food vouchers and utility bill credits you can use, but first things first, may I have a transportation pass?" said the clerk. “Transportation pass? The bank just took my one and only pass!” I cried helplessly. “I am sorry Mr Chan, I am just following the rules, I need a pass before I can give you all these goodies. Come back when you have one.

    Disheartened, I went to see my wife to confess that I had messed up: no cash, no food, no anything. Connie consoled me and said: “Charles, look, I just got my first pay cheque! We can still find a way.

    I dared not tell her that I had seriously considered stealing from our neighbours and running to the nearest pawn shop. But I resolved to play by the rules. My rules. I promised myself that I wouldn't break the law but that I would bend it, even by just a titch.

    I defined my priorities on what I needed to do. From swallowing my pride so that I could get extra freebies from social services, to asking my pregnant daughter to skip school because she needed to find a babysitting job, to leaving my two kids in juvenile hall twice so they would not see me wheel and deal (I had some pride left in me after all). On the third week, my son even asked me, for someone unemployed, why I had so much cash, but I was too ashamed to say I was getting dole outs and making deals on the street. The pressure was intense; my
    children were shocked witnesses to the loud and nasty argument that I had with the mortgage broker who would not take a partial payment. I even stopped my wife from going to the bank to surrender an entire pay cheque just so she could take back our repossessed car, then lying to her saying I would take care of it and she had to go to work or be fired if she showed up late. The ticket is still with me.

    After an hour of living on the edge with the constant begging, pleading, cajoling and arguing, the month came to a merciful end, but not before my wife and I sought out the broker who was busy evicting families, to pay our mortgage in full. We hugged each other out of relief but my wife, the sensible and moral compass of our family said: “Charles, we still have enough left to pay off the bank loan.” I replied, “Connie, the line is too long, it has been a long week, I am exhausted, I will do it first thing tomorrow.

    Having walked in the metaphorical shoes of the Chan family, I now have a better appreciation of their struggles. The next time someone asks me why SRLs leave things to the last minute, I am going to tell them about the Chans. !
  • 01 May 2013 4:47 PM | CPI Admin (Administrator)
    It may be trite to say that our court system aims “to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every proceeding on its merits” but in all the mire and strain of navigating through the court system, sometimes that message is lost on self-represented litigants unfamiliar with the trial process, specifically the trial management conference (“TMC”).

    On March 12, 2013, Justice Paul Walker spoke at Amici Curiae’s March study group session as part of the organization's efforts to learn how to work with self-represented litigants. He discussed the rise of self-represented litigants.  With that in mind, the need for case management is essential for self-represented litigants, or as Justice Walker called them, “SRLs”. Many SRLs are emotionally attached to their case and as a result, they walk into the courtroom apprehensive, thinking they need to tell their story but have not looked into how a trial should be conducted.  Justice Walker said that as judges, they are cognizant of their duty to ensure procedural fairness and that means making SRLs aware of their procedural rights.  

    Justice Walker noted there have been inconsistent reports about whether the bar sees TMCs as a useful undertaking. Readers of Briefly! will recall that last February 2012, Chief Justice Bauman unveiled two ideas that his court was looking at. One was a review of the universality of TMCs; and two whether masters should be allowed to hear TMCs.  “The issue of making TMCs non-mandatory has many supporters but is far from unanimous amongst my colleagues.”  That evening, Justice Walker shared his views: “Arguably, one might say that it is a waste of time and money for parties who are represented with experienced counsel. However, when SRLs are involved, TMCs are absolutely critical to undergo.  Why?  It all comes down to determining the amount of judicial time needed for trial.”  

    Time.  It is a concept that Justice Walker emphasized. Justice Walker said a TMC is a window into how much judicial time is really needed.  Time estimates are reviewed by the registry and by the Chief Justice or Associate Chief Justice when determining which judge to assign to the case.

    Justice Walker points out that the purpose of a TMC is to avoid trial by ambush. The goal is to minimize surprises on the first day of trial that could warrant an adjournment.  A judge wants to be able to ensure orderly progress of the trial and trial fairness. Gauging time reasonably and as accurately as possible goes a long way towards the efficiency of a trial. Accurate time estimates means that a trial is less likely to adjourn for a continuation, something that Justice Walker called the “bane” of judges’ existence.  A continuation of a trial means the registry will have to shuffle their schedule around as much possible to accommodate the parties and it also means judges have to be reminded about what happened during the trial previously.

    With trial dates being booked months in advance, the parties need to think about whether the limited time they have is enough to present their case.  A TMC is a useful tool to track time and presents an opportunity for parties to deal with issues such as:
    • Preliminary objections – this could be anything that impacts the disposition of the trial and its determination;
    • Document production – consider whether the parties can come to an agreement about the use and admissibility of  documents or decide if an application regarding admissibility will be necessary on the first day of trial. He cited as an example the admissibility of medical clinical records and the purpose for which they are admitted into evidence (e.g., proof of truth of contents vs. proof that the author recorded the statement recorded therein);
    • Witnesses – the parties need to identify who will be called, how much time is needed for each witness, whether interpreters are needed, and whether the witness is only available on a certain date, as if so, this could potentially interrupt a party’s case;
    • Special needs – If special equipment is needed, for example, a television for visual aids, the registry should be consulted; 
    • Time estimates - the courtroom breaks should also be accounted for, and the estimates should be added up to ensure they are within the trial dates reserved;
    • Security – the Court will want to know if a sheriff’s presence is needed;
    • Settlement –this can be explored at a TMC.

    All of the above issues affect the amount of time needed for trial.  Justice Walker reminded the paralegals that judges are human and   the parties should not assume that the judge will know what they have known for years about their case. Parties should allow time to inform judges about the issues involved in the case.  Whereas SRLs and opposing parties have spent months and years on the case, the judge’s exposure to the case is limited to what he or she has read in the pleadings and the TMC brief.

    Time is a luxury that the court does not have an abundance of.  There is no doubt that a further understanding of the issues at hand is worth the review that a TMC imposes.  Until the numbers of SRLs decrease and judicial time is not such a precious commodity, a TMC is beneficial in the long run.

    Tick tock. !

    A team of Amici Curiae members put this article together: Sharon Mah from Bull Houser Tupper LLP, Lisa Samis from Stephens Holman and Yvonne van Vliet from Gowlings LLP.
  • 08 Feb 2013 10:03 AM | CPI Admin (Administrator)
    In two weeks, Amici Curiae’s Pro Bono Paralegal Program will celebrate the completion of its second year on February 8, 2011. The program is the Ministry of the AG through its Justice Access Centre (JAC), Access Pro Bono BC and Law Courts Center. AC offers paralegal assistance in completing BC Supreme Court civil court forms and helping clients with various issues relating to foreclosures, tenancy, wills and immigration. AC is on track to have served 175 clients this year compared to 144 the previous year.

    AC owes its modest success to its volunteer paralegals. We thank the manager of triage Karen MacMillan, and Dominique Marcotte, who ran its study group. These days, you will find Amy Kelly managing triage, Lenise Fitzpatrick organizing the study group and Mindi Cofman who has taken on the mentorship committee. Pat Terlecki continues to make sure that everything runs like clockwork.

    We have now added interpreters to our fold of volunteers. We are now able to serve clients in English, French, Mandarin, Punjabi, Korean and Cantonese.

    Apart from our volunteers, duty counsel (DC) continues to play an integral part of our work. We mourned the very untimely passing of Alan Parker, QC; and said goodbye to the Maestro, Craig Goebel, who logged the most DC hours, to become the CEO of Legal Aid Saskatchewan.

    Brian Wallace, former president of the Law Society of BC, now logs in the most DC hours. He attests: “First, I am a fan.  The program provides an important service, which benefits not only the self-represented litigant but also the court, by providing pleadings that more clearly identify the issues, and focus on the material facts. A secondary benefit is to engage paralegals as well as lawyers in the pro bono culture.  I have been really impressed by the paralegals I have worked with at the clinics. They are all bright and willing, and clearly see this contribution of their time as an important part of being a professional.  They have all been a delight to work with.”

    LSBC’s Michael Kleisinger played the role of designated emergency DC filling in at the last minute. “I find it very satisfying to participate in a program that provides professional legal services to people who otherwise may not be able to participate in the legal system. I have enjoyed how the program fosters teamwork and a problem-solving atmosphere among the participating lawyers and paralegals. By providing face-to-face interaction with clients, the program compliments the Law Society's recent rule changes and court pilot projects which have expanded the responsibilities of designated paralegals. In short, the program is refreshingly forward-thinking and offers at least one answer to the access to justice riddle.

    Volunteers are always welcome, and if you would like to learn more, join us for our Open House on March 12, which features a  studysession where Justice Paul Walker will be speaking about Trial Management Conferences and the self-represented litigants. To register, go to: canadianparalegalinstute.com !

    Dom Bautista is the executive director of Law Courts Center and Amici Curiae.
  • 04 Feb 2013 9:25 AM | CPI Admin (Administrator)
    In British Columbia, we have come a long ways from dealing with unrepresented litigants. These days, litigants who for various reasons have chosen to do without counsel are now referred to as self-represented, yet we can still hear and see members of the profession using the term: dealing.

    Jaime  Maclaren, the progressive executive director of APBBC in his last two posts at slaw.ca asserts that self-represented litigants (SRLs) are not things and more recently, wrote McJustice- Who’s Lovin’ It?

    What was notable in his first post was his observation: “Reform initiatives too often seek to increase access to justice by redirecting the flow of litigants undefined opening new doors and closing old ones undefined when they could do more by listening carefully to the experiences and insights of litigants (particularly SRLs) and then adapting systems to them.

    In his second post, Maclaren while preparing for his appearance for the appeal in Vilardell v Dunham, thought about sociologist George Ritzer’s characterization of the McDonaldization of bureaucracies, which arguably includes our justice system and the institutions that work with it. As reformers continue to seek McDonald’s-like efficiencies, conferring in many cases without the presence of SRLs, the clamour for change continues notwithstanding that our Rules of Court have entrenched the pursuit of securing the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every proceeding on its merits.

    The Ottawa Citizen began this year by citing a study by University of Windsor law professor Julie Macfarlane that found that SRLs are still treated with contempt and surprisingly by some judges. She cited the case of Meads v Meads (canlii.ca/t/fsvjq) as an example. In response to our query about her findings on the role of paralegals, she wrote: “One of the issues that clearly flows from this is the question of the regulation of legal services and the (hitherto highly restricted) role of paralegals. There are at least three urgent wake ups in my data for the legal profession: (1) they need to consider the consequences of pricing themselves out of the reach of ordinary folks; (2) they need to get a lot more serious about “unbundling” and limited representation, because that is often all that people can afford / will pay for; and (3) that some tasks do not require a $400 an hour lawyer to work on them.

    Setting aside the benefits of the expansion of the roles of articled students and paralegals in BC for a moment, a significant challenge still lies in how the SRLs are treated.  As their numbers continue to increase, redirecting their flow will not stem nor stop them. Perhaps it is time to stop dealing with them.

    Perhaps it is time to start working with them.

    Amici Curiae is at the cusp of completing its second year of operations on February 8. It is on pace to reach 175 clients (compared to 144 in its first year), its volunteer paralegals will vouch for the fact that the SRLs are just like you and I, deserving of respect. That little things matter to SRLs like listening to what really concerns them and how frustrated and confused they are with the process and the myriad of court forms and procedures.  They have shown that they do not need sympathy from our volunteers or duty counsel but they appreciate empathy. And on those occasions when our volunteers or duty counsel have said that they do not have an answer, the SRLs have been quite understanding and forgiving.  

    Think about the benefits of preparing lists of contacts for SRLs, giving them a schedule of deadlines and sources of free information. By providing these to the SRLs, which you would have had to prepare for your file, you can make a difference in how they will choose to work with you, which in turn gives you a
    better chance of having a smoother running file.

    As Amici Curiae looks to its third year, here is our birthday wish: for the profession to begin working with self-represented litigants rather than dealing with unrepresented litigants. !

    Dom Bautista is the executive director of Law Courts Center.
  • 02 Jan 2013 11:07 AM | CPI Admin (Administrator)
    Given the recently expanded roles of articled students and paralegals, the Law Society of BC is enabling the public access to more affordable legal services, especially to the middle class who earn a good salary but who still cannot afford a lawyer.  

    Chapter 12 of BC’s Professional Conduct Handbook (PCH) states that a lawyer has complete professional responsibility for all business entrusted to him or her and must directly supervise staff and assistants to whom the lawyer delegates particular tasks and functions.  It also sets out what actions are not permitted to be performed by a non-lawyer.

    Since Law Society Rule 2-32.01 was introduced on September 1, 2011, articled students, subject to any prohibition in law and certain exceptions, can now provide all legal services that a lawyer is permitted to provide.  However, the supervising lawyer must ensure the student is competent to provide the service, and that the student is appropriately supervised and properly prepared before acting in any proceeding. A notable exception is that articled students are not allowed to appear as counsel in complex litigation.  

    In January 2013, the 2-year Paralegal Pilot program will come into effect.  It will allow designated paralegals a limited right of appearance in family law proceedings to attend in Supreme Court in Vancouver, New Westminster, and Kamloops, and in Provincial Court in the Cariboo Northeast District and in Surrey.

    The PCH also sets out that a “paralegal” is a trained professional working under a supervising lawyer, while a “designated paralegal” (still under a supervising lawyer) can perform additional functions by representing clients before specific courts or tribunals on family law matters, can give legal advice, and can give / receive undertakings.

    So how can articled students, designated paralegals, and  paralegals increase their value to the firm’s clients?  

    All should ask their supervising lawyer to personally introduce them to clients.  The client should be informed of the various tasks each non-lawyer handles within the firm.  Clients are always happy to know that dealing with the appropriate staff member first may be more cost effective to them.  This can also free up time for your lawyer to work on more complex legal matters rather than deal with things that can be handled by others.

    Designated paralegals should also prepare an outline as to what areas they feel competent in and comfortable to provide the new enhanced services, as well as those areas which they would like to gain
    additional knowledge. There should be a “game plan” in place for mentoring, training, and increasing responsibilities.  They should be prepared to explain how this will benefit clients, the supervising lawyer, and the firm.

    For articling students and designated family paralegals appearing in court, a number of seasoned litigators provided the following tips: firstly, prepare for your appearance by reading the entire file and all the relevant research.  Take the time to understand the importance of knowing everything you can about the action you are speaking to.  Secondly, seek your principal and have them work with you to ensure that the you have anticipated and prepared for potential issues that may arise when you speak to the application in chambers. Thirdly, as many senior counsel do out of habit, seek  the other side before the application; you may be able to reach consent or narrow the issues.

    Fourthly, once in front of the judge or master, you should use your own words to express what you seek, instead of reading the complicated language of your application. Finally, watch the judge or master prior to your application and pick up your cues from the way they behave: do they want a lot of information or not?

    Paralegals can also apply for their Commission of Oath by submitting an application and test, along with the appropriate fees.

    No matter which support staff member you are, remember to always take pride in your work and do the best job possible.  Take time to always review your spelling and grammar before hitting the send button on an email or the print button on a letter or document.  Sloppy works reflects poorly on you, and more importantly on your supervising lawyer and the firm.  As always, present yourself in a professional manner, dress professionally, and treat others as you would like to be treated.  Again, you are a reflection of your firm and supervising lawyer.

    Remember that if you don’t know an answer, don’t guess.  Just say “let me look into that, and I’ll get back to you”.  Then make sure you do!

    Although the changes are incremental regarding the range of services articled students and paralegals can now provide, it does broaden the public’s access to more affordable legal services.  The changes also ensure the services are provided by the non-lawyer in a professional, competent, and ethical manner. !

    Wendy Matthews is a paralegal at GK Thomas Law.
  • 19 Nov 2012 1:36 PM | CPI Admin (Administrator)
    Introduction

    In an effort to increase access to legal services to the public, the Law Society of British Columbia recently expanded the role of paralegals in British Columbia. The guidelines are set out in the Professional Conduct Handbook’s Chapter 12 and Appendix 7, giving lawyers authority to decide who is a paralegal. As well, the expanded role brought about the creation of a new title: designated paralegal which, under Chapter 12 of the Handbook, allows the paralegal to give legal advice and a limited right to appear in court – currently in the Provincial Court and the Supreme Court of BC, beginning January 1, 2013 for family matters. Each lawyer may have a maximum of two designated paralegals.

    What Does Master Baker Envision on the Role of Designated Paralegals in Court?

    There is likely no group more intrigued by the family law paralegals’ pilot project of the Law Society and the Supreme Court of BC than those who attended the Paralegal & Support Staff Conference last October 5, 2012.  Master Douglas Baker began by sharing some context to the development of the pilot project, saying that while mild skepticism still exists within the judiciary regarding paralegals appearing in court, these days, the courts have come to realize that paralegals have proven themselves to be efficient and capable in many aspects of the law.  Ultimately the courts, who are necessarily conservative, have agreed to this project because they saw this as an important step in making justice more accessible for more British Columbians.

    Download the paper.

  • 05 Nov 2012 9:29 PM | CPI Admin (Administrator)
    It is not a secret – that change is afoot. Alternative business structures are not just an idea. The question is how fast will the change come. Here.

    At the October 26, 2012 benchers’ meeting, they welcomed Mr. Simon Chester, QC who spoke to them about the regulatory challenges of new structures for delivering legal services, specifically describing the developments in ABS in the UK.

    Last February 2012, the Financial Times reported that at least a third of the UK’s top 40 law firms are looking to take advantage of the ABS rules by joining with a non-legal practice in the next two years due to the deregulation. These new liberalized rules, nicknamed the Tesco Law, now allow consumers to book appointments for legal matters while shopping for their groceries. While the Tesco chain has not gone into it yet, the Cooperative, with an annual sales of £13.3 billion from its network of 5000 stores, has aimed to be the consumer law of choice in the UK. Along with its funeral services, it now provides services in wills drafting, probate, personal injury, family, conveyancing and employment law.  Last September 20, they began offering fixed fee family law services.

    Should Safeway begin to offer the same services, how will it affect solo practices?  Will the regional and national firms be insulated?

    Some of you might say …. It will never happen here in BC. Really?

    Our new Legal Profession Amendment Act appears to have considered ABS by the expansive way it defined a law firm. So it seems that it is our law society, while having already approved multi-disciplinary practices, that have thus far taken a cautious wait and see position preventing ABS from taking place in BC. To date, despite several MDP applications, no firm has been approved by the law society.

    Chester ended his remarks to the benchers by saying: your report last October recommended a wait and see position … the game is afoot, it is still extremely early days, continue monitoring the developments in the 6 month old experiment that is going on in the UK.

    So should the benchers continue to wait it out? It appears to be the safe thing to do, unless the marketplace intervenes.

    The interesting thing about the innovative practices internationally is that they have a distinct Canadian thumbprint. Ontario solicitor Michael Carabash has had his automated Will-o-matic service not only in Ontario but in BC for sometime now. Making use of daily deal websites like Living Social and Groupon. In the UK, daily deal websites offer his will-writing services for £19.

    When technology drives service delivery and pricing even notaries will find it hard to compete.

    Meanwhile, on the other side of the Fraser River, the BC Legal Management Association was also hosting its biennial conference, aptly titled: Change: embrace, integrate, manage. Having recognized the tumultuous waves of change that are pounding on their respective firms, BCLMA decided to take a proactive approach. The delegates listened to Mr. Jim Bottomley discuss how to change law firms from within to respond to the changes coming from the outside. Of the several strategies that he recommended, what resonated to many of the delegates was his suggestion that for firms to survive, they should consider becoming specialists.

    Heeding him will profoundly affect access to justice. What will happen to lawyers who practice in rural areas?

    Michael Short, their final keynote speaker described how law firms should tackle and embrace change, reflecting on the challenges that senior partners present, the realities of the marketplace that are the antithesis of established practices. He described in detail the perspective of newly-hired associates and support staff and their expectation for life work balance and sophisticated clients who now habitually evaluate the value they are getting from their legal advisors.

    He cautioned the audience that one of the worse things lawyers can do is to commoditize their practice, something that Chester had referred to in his presentation to the benchers … the effect of the deregulation of the legal profession both in the UK and Australia was intended to provide consumers with a stronger hand …. which is what commoditization is all about. Regardless of size, for law firms to do well, they need to cognizant of the effects of globalization, technology and market forces.

    Change, as Bottomley astutely observed, is not necessarily a bad thing … with change comes many opportunities but firms need to develop a compelling vision.

    Two distinct stakeholders. Two distinct strategies. !

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