The Advisory: Volume 8, Issue 5, December 2010

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The Three “R’s”: Rural, Regional and Remote

By Sarah J. King D’Souza, QC, Bencher and Chair, Retention and Re-Engagement Task Force, Law Society of Alberta

THE RETENTION and Re-Engagement Task Force has commenced its work to identify the issues and to develop a strategy to retain and re-engage lawyers in the private practice of law.

While we are all aware of efforts given to retaining doctors in rural areas of Alberta, and appreciate why it is important for communities, we have not as a legal profession, fully considered the importance of recruitment and retention of lawyers in rural areas, and the impact of lack of rural lawyers upon access to justice for persons living outside the major centres.

At the November 25, 2010 Law Society celebration for practitioners with 50, 60 and 70 year of service, three of the seven 50 year practitioners were from rural Alberta, and both of those attending the lunch mentioned concerns about succession planning for their practices.

Current demographic information about our membership indicates that of our practising members:

  • 4346 are located in Calgary,
  • 2724 in Edmonton, and 
  • 1013 in other parts of the province
  • 216 students-at-Law are working in Calgary,
  • 133 Students-at-law in Edmonton and,
  • 38 elsewhere in Alberta.

In 2009, approximately 58 per cent of Law Society of Alberta lawyers were between the ages of 41-70; 25 per cent were aged 31-40; and less than 10 per cent were under age 30.

It appears from data in other jurisdictions that rural practitioners are older than those in urban centres, and that the majority of practices are small, making succession planning difficult.

The Canadian Bar Association in B.C. has launched the Rural Education and Access to Lawyers initiative with funding from the Law Foundation of British Columbia. Strategies include funding for second year summer student placements in rural and small communities, support to law firms engaged in recruitment and hiring of students and new lawyers, and an articles registry.

One of the Law Society’s strategic goals is to promote access to justice. Lack of access to lawyers in regions means that some Albertans may not receive legal advice on matters affecting their legal rights. We need to examine the extent of the problem affecting recruitment and retention of lawyers in rural, regional and remote areas of Alberta, identify the potential factors contributing to the problem and consider strategies, commencing at the point of law school entry, and continuing thereafter.

I invite lawyers to share their stories and provide their thoughts to inform the Task Force on lawyer retention and re-engagement in the legal profession in Alberta. You are welcome to email me at:

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