The Advisory: Volume 9, Issue 2, August 2011
Committee Recommends Exploring Models to Enhance Legal Services Delivery to Low-income Albertans
By Doug Mah, QC, President and Chair of the ADLS Committee, Law Society of Alberta
THE ALTERNATE DELIVERY of Legal Services Committee has issued an Interim Report that recommends the Law Society further explore a model for expanding legal services provided by supervised paralegals to low-income Albertans. The ALDS Project was adopted by the Benchers as a strategic initiative to explore whether an increase in non-lawyer legal service delivery would increase access to justice for Albertans. As a result of the Project’s research outcomes documented in the interim report, the Committee found that there is already a robust non-lawyer legal service delivery marketplace in Alberta. There is a wide variety of low complexity and low risk legal services provided by independent non-lawyer agents for consumers with an ability to pay for those services.
The Committee has surmised that access to legal services for lower income Albertans might be improved if some low complexity and low risk legal services were delivered by paralegals under the supervision of a lawyer. In particular, this supervised paralegal model may be possible in government and not-for-profit agencies who currently deliver legal services to low income Albertans.
The Interim Report was delivered to the Benchers at their April 2011 meeting and is a comprehensive analysis of the research conducted in Phase 2 of the project. It includes:
- an extensive analysis of the non-lawyer legal services industry in Alberta;
- findings from a survey of Albertans on legal services usage and attitudes;
- results of a survey of the legal profession on legal service delivery; and
- legal research on the definition of the practice of law.
Some of the data provided new insights and surprises that greatly informed the propositions the Committee was asked to explore such as:
- There is a tremendously wide variety of legal services already provided to the public by non-lawyer agents for a fee. The marketplace has filled in the gaps in service for low complexity, low risk legal services.
- Alberta has the largest per capita non-lawyer legal service industry in Canada.
- Alberta is the only jurisdiction not to have a clear definition of the practice of law (or of unauthorized practice) in the provincial statute.
- The unregulated non-lawyer legal services industry has grown in Alberta in contrast to more stringent regulatory environments in BC (unauthorized practice of law prosecutions) and Ontario (paralegal regulation).
- Generally, those able to pay for legal services provided by a lawyer are happy with those services and would retain a lawyer in the future for a serious or difficult to resolve legal problem.
- Many lawyers are providing access to low income Albertans through reduced fee arrangements, pro bono legal service and limited scope retainers.
As well, some of the research data confirmed the assumptions made when the Project began such as:
- The non-lawyer legal services marketplace is mostly unregulated. However, general consumer protection legislation and the unauthorized practice of law provisions in the Legal Profession Act provide some measure of protection in this industry.
- There are no standards of education, insurance, code of professional conduct or other client protections in place for independent non-lawyer legal service delivery.
- Low income Albertans (those earning under $50,000) experience the availability of legal services differently than those with an ability to pay for legal services.
- There are high needs areas where cost is a barrier for low income Albertans particularly in the area of family law.
As a result of the research outcomes, the Committee made three recommendations for discussion by the Benchers that:
- a better definition of the practice of law be pursued with Alberta Justice;
- as there is a robust market already in place, the expansion of independent non-lawyer legal service delivery is not recommended; and
- the Law Society and the Committee further explore a model for the expansion of legal services by paralegals under the supervision of a lawyer particularly with the goal of enhancing access to competent and affordable legal services for low-income Albertans in areas of high need.
The Committee ADLS is working towards a final report on the project in November 2011 after consultation with justice system partners.
The full report entitled Alternate Delivery of Legal Services Phase 2 Interim Report to Benchers and Research Analysis April 7- 8, 2011 is available on the Law Society website at www.lawsociety.ab.ca
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