Access to legal services and evolution of the marketplace drive tough regulatory questions
by Bruce A. LeRose, QC
This is my third opportunity to speak directly to BC lawyers through this column. It comes at a time when summer is winding down and many of us are gearing up for busier times in the fall. This is also an opportunity for me to reflect on my first eight months as president of the Law Society of British Columbia, the accomplishments we have achieved and the mountain of work that is still to be done.
Perhaps the most rewarding part of this job is the opportunity to get out of my Law Society office at 845 Cambie Street and visit bar associations, lawyer groups and professional legal organizations and dialogue about the pressing issues of the day.
Everywhere I have travelled between Terrace and Fernie and all points in between, I have been welcomed and treated royally, and for that I am truly grateful. I have also been singularly impressed with the hard work and dedication of so many lawyers across this great province who give tirelessly of their time and talents.
I have always been proud of the profession I belong to, but this year has been a real eye-opener for me as I have had first-hand experience of just how well our profession serves the public interest. I look forward to spending much of the remainder of my time as president getting out to events around the province and listening to those who make a difference every day in the lives of the public whom we serve.
There are three important developments that I want to highlight in this column.
The first harkens back to my last column, when I discussed the many changes that will be brought about as a result of the passage of the Legal Profession Amendment Act, 2012. One of the significant amendments allows for the Law Society to regulate law firms and will have a dramatic impact on how the Law Society carries out its regulatory duties.
Rules will be developed that will hold firms, and not just individual lawyers, responsible for failure to provide honourable and competent legal services to the public. The new rules will permit the Law Society to be more effective in areas such as complaints and discipline, trust assurance, responsibility for non-lawyer staff and practice standards. This is a very big job and certainly will carry on beyond my presidency, but I am confident that the Benchers and the hardworking Law Society staff will deliver a new set of rules that will allow more flexibility in running law firms, while at the same time provide greater protection of the public.
The second important development is the expansion of the role of paralegals, provided they are supervised by lawyers. The Honourable Robert Bauman, Chief Justice of the British Columbia Supreme Court, has committed his court to a two-year pilot project that will grant designated paralegals a limited right to appear before the court on family law matters that are not contentious. You can read more about this innovative move to increase access to legal services in this issue of the Bulletin and discussions are underway for a similar project in the Provincial Court of British Columbia.
The third development is the establishment of the Legal Service Provider Task Force under my leadership to consider the question of who the Law Society should regulate. The legal marketplace is changing for a host of reasons. But the movement towards providing greater choice, greater accessibility and more affordable legal services for the public does not mean that we ignore the necessary standards in place to protect the public interest – standards that are designed to ensure ethical, professional and competent service and cannot be compromised by efforts to expand services. As strategies are developed to increase access to justice and permit delivery of legal services by non-lawyer providers, we must ensure that these providers are capable and competent, and conduct themselves appropriately and according to the same rules that govern lawyers.
The task force has been established to look at several questions. Is it time for a single unified regulator for the delivery of all legal services? Is the Law Society, with its 128 years of experience and built-in infrastructure, the organization that can best protect the public interest as these other delivery options unfold? The task force will be looking at these issues over the next year, and its work is highly anticipated.
I am confident, now having seen first hand the hard work being done by the Benchers and staff, that our Law Society will continue to be a leader in responding to the many demands placed on it and our profession and to make sure that the public continues to be well served.