COVID-19 response measures and reducing regulatory barriers to access to legal services

Following a series of Access to Justice Advisory Committee engagement sessions with members of the legal profession that reviewed how measures adopted in response to COVID-19 have improved or hindered access to legal services, the board of Benchers adopted principles to guide policy development aimed at reducing regulatory barriers, for advocating government, the courts and others to maintain certain COVID-19 response measures, and for directing staff to evaluate what changes can be made to regulatory requirements.

Read Responding to COVID-19 and adjusting regulation to improve access to legal services and justice, a report of the Access to Justice Advisory Committee, December 2021.

Background on the consultation

The Law Society sought feedback from members of the legal profession on the effectiveness of measures implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic for improving access to legal services and access to the justice system, as well as ideas for new measures to reduce regulatory barriers that impede clients’ access that the Law Society should explore.

The COVID response measures the Law Society had adopted were intended to make it easier for lawyers to continue to provide legal services despite the challenges of the pandemic. Some examples of what we implemented include:

  • a targeted, temporary fee relief program for lawyers who suffered significant financial hardship last year;
  • enhanced use of electronic banking;
  • remote trust audits;
  • permitting online verification of client identification; and
  • guidance regarding setting up remote workplaces, secure videoconferencing technologies, use of electronic signatures and more.

The Law Society also collaborated with the judiciary, government and government agencies to implement pandemic response measures, such as a process for virtual commissioning of affidavits, temporary suspension of limitations and remote witnessing of certain legal documents.

We asked: Which of these measures worked? For those that did not, what could be done to make them more effective? Were there other regulatory requirements or measures of the courts, government and government agencies that were barriers to access to justice that the Law Society should address?

The Law Society asked for feedback to be submitted by July 30, 2021. The Society also held several virtual town hall sessions for lawyers practising in various areas of the province, as there may be different barriers faced by different regions.