January 13, 2017

Recent media coverage incorrectly suggests that the Law Society is no longer working on expanding the scope of legal services that can be provided by non-lawyers.

As part of its access to justice initiatives, the Law Society is actively pursuing various projects, including discussions relating to amendments to the Legal Profession Act to authorize the creation of new classes of regulated legal service providers, which could include paralegals — in addition to lawyers. These initiatives are being taken specifically to address the need for greater access to affordable legal services in a number of areas.

While the Law Society cannot, without amendments to the Legal Profession Act, regulate paralegals directly, we can do so indirectly through the supervising lawyer. In order to do this, the Law Society implemented the Designated Paralegal Program in 2012. Amendments were made to the Professional Conduct Handbook (now the Code of Professional Conduct for BC) to allow designated paralegals, under the supervision of a lawyer, to give legal advice and to represent clients before a court or tribunal, as permitted by the court or tribunal. A further amendment in 2015 permits designated paralegals to represent clients at a family law mediation. These were important amendments, as they expand the scope of services that can be done by paralegals under lawyer supervision.

The Court Pilot Project was an initial attempt, working with the courts, to see how a limited scope of appearance and practice by designated paralegals might work. The pilots permitted designated paralegals to appear on certain family court matters. They began in January 2013; the Supreme Court of BC pilot ended on December 31, 2014 and the Provincial Court pilot ended on October 1, 2015. Over the span of the pilots, very few lawyers sent designated paralegals to court. However, the pilots were just one part of a bigger initiative that is ongoing and that continues to improve access to lower cost services for clients. Designated paralegals are still permitted to provide legal advice, and they may still appear before tribunals if the tribunal permits.

In 2016 the Law Society conducted a voluntary survey of the lawyers who, at the time, indicated they had supervised designated paralegals. A summary of the results indicates that 72 per cent of those who responded believe they were able to improve access to lower cost services for clients. The number of lawyers supervising designated paralegals continues to grow. In 2013, 345 lawyers reported that they supervise designated paralegals. By 2015 that number had grown to 647 (180 of whom supervised two designated paralegals, the maximum allowable).

The designated paralegal designation is one in a series of initiatives the Law Society has been rolling out to facilitate access to justice. The Law Society also expanded the scope of services provided by articled students, and prior to the designated paralegal initiative, rules were introduced enabling lawyers to offer “unbundled services.” Most recently, the Law Society agreed last October to support the Access to Justice BC initiative, a collaborative approach to facilitating access to justice that includes a broad spectrum of stakeholders across the province’s justice system.