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Designated paralegal initiative improves access to lower cost legal services

[posted 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.

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Benchers approve support for Access to Justice BC

[posted December 14, 2016]

The Law Society and the Law Foundation have announced a joint three year funding and support arrangement for Access to Justice BC (A2JBC). Under the terms of the arrangement the Law Society and the Law Foundation will each contribute $150,000 over three years to enable A2JBC to continue its innovative work in bringing together stakeholders from across the justice sector to better collaborate and coordinate in enhancing access to justice for British Columbians. The Benchers approved the arrangement noting that supporting and enhancing access to justice is a foundational goal of the Law Society’s strategic plan.  

A2JBC was formed in 2015 under the leadership of Chief Justice Robert Bauman and today includes senior leaders from all of the stakeholder organizations. In its formative stages support for A2JBC was provided through Law Foundation grants and the assistance of Courthouse Libraries BC (CLBC). Going forward the new arrangement will see the Law Society taking on more of a leadership role and in agreement with CLBC will fund its support through setting aside funds collected for CLBC as part of the 2017 practice fee. The new funding will support the continued work of a strategic coordinator and communication and administrative services. Conditions of the support include the development by A2JBC of specific action plans and budgets, progress reporting and joint monitoring and oversight by the Law Society and the Law Foundation. For more information on A2JBC, visit their website.

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Law Society Bencher appointed to the Provincial Court of British Columbia

[posted December 13, 2016]

The Law Society congratulates the Honourable Judge Lynal Doerksen on his appointment to the Provincial Court of British Columbia. Judge Doerksen was called to the bar in Alberta in 1990, joined the BC bar in 2005 and was elected a Bencher in 2013.

Judge Doerksen has practised in many areas of litigation, including family, employment, commercial, personal injury and criminal and has appeared before all levels of court in BC and Alberta. In 2005, he became a Crown prosecutor in Cranbrook and served as Administrative Crown Counsel until his judicial appointment.

As a Bencher of the Law Society, Judge Doerksen was a member of the Executive Committee, chair of the Credentials Committee and Unauthorized Practice Committee and vice-chair of the Act and Rules Committee.

He has served as a volunteer for many organizations, including the Criminology Advisory Committee at the College of the Rockies, CBA – Law Day, Cerebral Palsy Association of Fort McMurray and many triathlon events. He is the past chair of the CBA, BC Branch's Court Services Committee and a past president of the Kootenay Bar Association and the Fort McMurray Bar Association.

Read the announcement here.

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Law Society makes submission on National Security Consultation

[posted December 12, 2016]

The Law Society has made a submission to the Federal government regarding its consultation on national security. The consultation focuses on key elements of Canada’s national security laws and policies “to ensure they reflect the rights, values and freedoms of Canadians.” In particular, the government is looking to inform changes to national security legislation, including changes introduced by the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015 (former Bill C-51).

Read the submission.

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Law Society to seek leave to appeal TWU decision to the Supreme Court of Canada

[posted November 8, 2016]

The Law Society today determined that it will seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada the recent decision of the BC Court of Appeal in Trinity Western University v. The Law Society of British Columbia.

Background material can be found on the Law Society’s TWU web page.

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BC Court of Appeal decision on TWU matter

[posted November 1, 2016]

Today, the BC Court of Appeal released its decision in TWU v. Law Society of BC. The appeal was dismissed. See the decision here.

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Law Society’s second annual secondary school essay contest highlights significance of the rule of law

[posted June 22, 2016]

The Law Society’s Rule of Law and Lawyer Independence Advisory Committee launched an annual essay contest for BC secondary students last year to reaffirm the significance of the rule of law and to enhance students’ knowledge and willingness to participate actively in civic life.

For the 2016/17 school year, the Law Society is inviting all Grade 12 students and any secondary school students who have taken, or are currently enrolled in either Law 12 or Civic Studies 11, to submit an essay on the following topic:

How would you explain the rule of law to a fellow student who has never heard the term before? You might discuss why the rule of law is important, and how it impacts our daily lives. You might also discuss any current events involving threats to the rule of law.

Students are expected to submit an essay addressing the topic that demonstrates their understanding of the rule of law, its principles, and its significance in civil society. Entries will be judged on a clear expression of ideas, an understanding of the topic, originality and excellence in writing.

The winner and runner up will be chosen by a judging panel representing the Law Society and the education community. The winning entry will be awarded a $1,000 prize, and the runner up will receive a $500 prize. The first place winner and runner up will be invited to an awards presentation event at the Law Society in Vancouver. Travel and accommodation costs for a student not living in Metro Vancouver will be provided by the Law Society.

Deadline for submissions is April 10, 2017.

For further details, see the flyer, information sheet and submission guidelines.

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