Access to Legal Services
The Law Society is taking steps to make lawyers’ services more accessible to the average person. It is one of three goals in our current strategic plan and it falls within our mandate “to uphold and protect the public interest in the administration of justice by preserving and protecting the rights and freedoms of all persons.”
Enhancing access to affordable legal services
In 2008, the Benchers approved recommendations from the Unbundling of Legal Services Task Force that permit lawyers to “unbundle” their services and offer "limited scope” legal services. Lawyers can help clients with part of a case, instead of the entire case, which can reduce legal fees.
View California’s Judge M. Sue Talia, recorded at a Law Society of BC public forum on January 28, 2009, speak about the impact of unbundling in her home state.
In 2011, following approval of the recommendations of the Delivery of Legal Services Task Force Final Report, the Law Society changed its rules to allow articled students to provide certain legal services to the public, provided they are well supervised by a principal or another lawyer. In 2012, new rules were adopted that enhance the role of paralegals; they are now entitled to perform a number of additional legal services, including giving legal advice and appearing in court on certain matters. The aim of these changes is to offer the public options to access more reasonably priced legal services while at the same time maintaining a high level of quality and competency.
Providing funding for solutions
Each year, more than $145,000 of the fees paid by lawyers to the Law Society go to the Law Foundation of BC to support pro bono, or free, legal services for those in need. BC has the highest percentage of lawyers working pro bono in Canada, according to the Access Pro Bono Society of BC.
The Law Society helped fund a Public Commission on Legal Aid in BC, which has travelled the province to gather ideas for solutions to the problems surrounding legal aid funding. Read the Commission report.
Each year, the Law Society sponsors Law Week, an initiative of the Canadian Bar Association, which explores access to justice issues with the public through a variety of means, including public forums.
Recently, the Law Society partnered with the Justice Education Society, Access Pro Bono Society of BC and the Salvation Army Pro Bono Program to produce a series of new legal help resources in English, Mandarin and Punjabi, including videos, worksheets and a resource directory. The online resources are designed to help British Columbians access legal services.
Supporting access to a diverse group of lawyers
It’s important that the public has access to a broad selection of lawyers who represent the diversity of the overall population. The Law Society’s Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee is working on several strategies to improve diversity within the legal profession including:
- exploring ways to encourage and support Aboriginal lawyers.
- urging firms to consider The Business Case for Retaining and Advancing Women Lawyers in Private Practice, as women lawyers tend to leave the profession in higher numbers than men. We are currently following up on some of the recommendations in the business case.
- promoting and encouraging diversity within law firms as set out in its report, Towards a More Diverse Legal Profession: Better practices, better workplaces, better results, which provides both data illustrating the current demographics of the legal profession in BC and the case for diversity in law firms. A summary of the report can be found in the Spring 2012 edition of the Benchers’ Bulletin.
Generating discussion and public awareness of the importance of the issue
On January 28, 2009 the Law Society held a public forum entitled Clearing the Path to justice with key note speaker the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, PC, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. View highlights from the forum and the event program.
The public conversation about access to justice
As the regulator for BC’s lawyers, the Law Society is only one piece of the access to justice puzzle. We are eager to find solutions, and work with the many others who are also searching for answers and raising awareness.
Chief Justice Lance Finch speaks to lawyers at the 2011 Pro Bono Appreciation Breakfast, March 31, 2011
Mayland McKimm, QC, Chair, The Legal Services Society, speech to the Law Society of BC Benchers, March 4, 2011, Access to Justice – What the People Want
View Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and other experts speaking at the University of Toronto Middle Income Access to Civil Justice Colloquium, February 10, 2011. Read related article.
Chief Justice Lance Finch speaks to the Canadian Bar Association, November 2010, Access to Justice: the Elephant in the Room
Department of Justice Canada symposium on access to justice: Expanding Horizons: Rethinking Access to Justice in Canada, March 31, 2000
Access to justice in the news
BC's Ministry of Justice launched a review of the justice system with the release of its green paper, Modernizing British Columbia's Justice System.
Chief Justice Beverely McLachlin and several politicians, including the Minister of Justice, were interviewed about the state of Canada’s justice system on CBC Radio’s The Current, April 6, 2011. Part 1 and Part 2.
Justice system 'falling apart": lawyer, Moncton Times & Transcript, March 24th, 2011
Access to Justice in U.S. at Third-World Levels, says Survey, Huffington Post, October 14, 2010
Additional information and resources
As the regulators of lawyers, the Law Society is not able to provide legal advice or assistance to the public. However, we have compiled links to others who may be able to help. Legal information and resources to assist the public