The Advisory: Volume 8, Issue 4, October 2010

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Small Firms Provide Majority of Legal Services to Individual Albertans

By Douglas R. Mah, QC, Bencher and Chair, Alternate Delivery of Legal Services Committee, Law Society of Alberta

INDIVIDUAL ALBERTANS overwhelming rely on small firms to resolve their everyday legal issues.

The recent Ipsos Reid general population survey on “legal services usage and attitudes” revealed that some 72 per cent of individual Albertans who used lawyers in the last three years sought assistance from a practitioner in a firm with one to nine lawyers. The personal legal services typically provided related to residential real estate transactions, wills and estate matters and family law issues.

Those surveyed indicated a high level of satisfaction (78 per cent) with the services pro- The Ipsos survey indicated the following: yy 82% of Respondents find a lawyer within their immediate community or city/town/ region. yy 72% of Respondents sought assistance from a lawyer in a firm of less than nine lawyers (14% of Respondents sought assistance from a sole practitioner). What can the Law Society of Alberta do to ensure that there continues to be lawyers in communities across Alberta who can provide legal services to individual Albertans? We hear that rural law firms have difficulty hiring students-at-law and retaining new lawyers in their communities. Some lawyers are leaving active practice early in their legal career for various reasons. Research from other Canadian jurisdictions suggest that clients want lawyers who reflect their demographics and are located in their local communities. vided by their lawyer, while 91 per cent felt they received good value. The mean cost of resolving a matter was $2,564. Clients also said the most important factor in choosing a lawyer was “good reputation” (43 per cent) and referral by another person (41 per cent).

Although there is a perception that the cost of a lawyer is prohibitive, the middle income group appears to have accessed a lawyer’s services within their price range, with good outcomes, for the legal problems they experienced.

Admittedly, buying or selling a house, get- A recent report for the Law Society of Upper Canada (Ornstein, April, 2010) indicates that in Ontario the number of lawyers who are women, Aboriginal and members of a visible minority continues to grow. The report predicts that the future will bring an increasingly diverse legal profession. What might be happening in Alberta? There is concern that the attrition of lawyers from private practice creates gaps in the provision of legal services and access to justice for Albertans. We do not fully understand all the reasons why lawyers are leaving active practice in Alberta. The Task Force is tasked with considering what might retain and re-engage lawyers in active private practice and with developing strategies the Law Society could adopt in this regard. I look forward to hearing from you (sking@flo. v ting a will or probating an estate tended to be matters more typically encountered in higher or middle income groups. There is good evidence in the survey data to show that the lower income group tends to experience a greater number and variety of legal issues, as well as face greater barriers to accessing the services of a lawyer.

The Alternate Delivery of Legal Services Project is examining legal service delivery in the context of increasing access for all Albertans. The Law Society will continue to provide reports as the project progresses.

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