The times they are a changing
by Bruce A. LeRose, QC
Over the past number of years, the Law Society of BC has made great strides to become a more transparent organization. There can be no doubt that with greater transparency the Law Society becomes more answerable to the public and more responsive to the profession.
Part of this transparency is our strategic planning process. The 2012-2014 Strategic Plan is the Law Society’s latest roadmap to becoming a more effective regulator of the legal profession and the delivery of legal services.
The first goal of our new Strategic Plan provides that the Law Society recognizes that it is important to encourage innovation in all of its practices and processes in order to continue to be an effective regulatory body.
In keeping with this first goal, I am pleased to report that the Legal Profession Amendment Act, 2012, SBC 2012, c. 16 received Royal Assent on May 14, 2012. The highlights of this new statutory authority include:
- an updated mandate that strengthens the commitment of the Law Society to the protection of the public interest in the administration of justice
- improved investigation and regulatory tools
- new provision for decisions of Law Society hearing panels to be subject to review by a review board, which will include people other than Benchers
- codifying Part B insurance in place of the Special Compensation Fund
- allowing for annual fees to be set by the Benchers
- the ability of the Law Society to regulate law firms and not just lawyers
- increased fines from a maximum of $20,000 to $50,000, in keeping with professional regulators who have more current legislation
- ability to collect fines and costs by filing the order in the Supreme Court, where it can be enforced as if it were an order of the court
These changes and many others have been a major undertaking for the Law Society over the last two years. I am confident that these new rules will help us preserve self-regulation, which is now widely acknowledged as a necessary requirement for a strong, honourable and independent legal profession.
The second goal of our new Strategic Plan is that the public will have better access to legal services.
In pursuit of that goal, last fall the Benchers passed rules that significantly expand the scope of practice for articled students. Soon, changes will be made to the upcoming Code of Professional Conduct and the Law Society Rules that will enable paralegals working under the supervision of lawyers to engage in both transactional practice and limited advocacy, all with a goal of providing more affordable and accessible legal services to the general public. We are working with both the Supreme Court and the Provincial Court to secure a right of audience for paralegals who are qualified and properly supervised to appear in both courts on behalf of clients.
Beyond the work of the Law Society, the time has come for stakeholders in the justice system to provide alternatives to traditional representation in order to remain relevant. To do nothing in the face of a dramatically different playing field for legal services is no longer an option and will only lead to imposed solutions from outside the profession.
One only need look at the recent introduction of Bill 44 (Civil Resolution Tribunal Act) and Bill 52 (Motor Vehicle Amendment Act). These proposed statutes are obvious examples of alternative resolution and adjudicative models that respond to the perceived failure of the justice system to deal effectively with public access.
As these issues and other matters pertaining to access to justice become more hotly debated in the public domain, stakeholders in the justice system need to provide answers other than the tired demand for more money. The Law Society looks forward to working with lawyers to assist in developing business models that will benefit the public and enhance the practice of law.
The third and final goal of our new Strategic Plan is that the public will have greater confidence in the administration of justice and the rule of law.
It is important to remind ourselves that the practice of law in British Columbia does not happen in a vacuum. There are numerous external forces that have had and continue to have a real impact on the administration of justice and the changing landscape of access to legal services.
Online solutions continue to grow as a legal service of choice. National mobility and the growing need for national standards will dramatically change how our profession delivers legal services. The advent of off-shore out-sourcing, multi-disciplinary practices and alternate business structures will fundamentally alter the traditional delivery of legal services.
Some experts refer to this as the “commoditization” of legal services. Can you imagine Wal-Mart or Costco delivering legal services? Thirty years ago we couldn’t envision such outlets dispensing pharmaceuticals. Notaries are seeking to expand their scope of practice into areas traditionally limited to lawyers.
The point is that, while we can learn from our past, we must be flexible and creative in meeting the public need (dare I say demand) and ensuring that such solutions are driven from within. To wax eloquently about the good old days and to do nothing will only marginalize our involvement. The Law Society will continue to play a leadership role in this changing landscape and looks to the members of the profession to champion change.