Improved access to justice can only be achieved through commitment and collaboration
by Art Vertlieb, QC
It is with great pride that I begin my tenure as president of the Law Society of BC. Having been a Bencher since 2004, this is the culmination of an extraordinary opportunity to serve the public and to work side by side with so many members of the legal profession.
Over the next months, my intent is to continue the Law Society’s focus on addressing the problem of access to justice and affordable legal services.
The public’s ability to access legal help is a well-documented challenge and the reasons, as we all know, are complex. Clearly, it is going to take a lot more than money to address the issues, which in turn will require the dedicated collaboration of all stakeholders in the justice system. Government, the courts, the legal profession and other legal service providers, and many others must come together to develop sustainable, effective ways to improve the efficiency and affordability of the system.
Of course, the Law Society has a role to play. We are represented on the provincial Ministry of Justice’s Justice Summit steering committee by the Society’s CEO, Tim McGee, and we look forward to an active role in that pivotal initiative.
As well, we are intent on maximizing the opportunity presented by the expansion of the role of paralegals in the provision of legal services. Since last fall, designated paralegals have been permitted to give legal advice under the supervision of a lawyer. As well, as of January 1, 2013, pilot projects with the Supreme Court of BC and the Provincial Court of BC are allowing limited appearances by paralegals in court.
The increased scope of practice for paralegals is one of the most significant achievements by the Benchers in the past few years, but it is now up to lawyers to take advantage of the change and offer clients lower cost options available through the use of paralegals. Having met with many paralegals in recent months, I can tell you that they are very enthusiastic about the chance to better serve those who could so desperately use their counsel.
In addition to continuing to promote the use of designated paralegals, my time as president will be spent implementing the recommendations of last year’s review of the Law Society’s governance. Many changes have already been put in place to ensure the Benchers are overseeing the work of the Law Society according to current best practices, with the objective of ensuring we are a well-run self-governing body.
This year will also see the completion of the work of the Legal Service Providers Task Force, chaired by past president, Bruce LeRose, QC. This task force, which includes representation from BC notaries and paralegals, will by the end of this year develop recommendations for how best to regulate the many providers of legal services. The marketplace is changing and, along with it, the public’s expectations for access to trustworthy legal services. The Law Society and others must do all they can not to impede choices for the consumer while at the same time ensuring the public is appropriately protected.
Lastly, we expect that this year will see the start of development of rules for the regulation of law firms. Our ability to regulate law firms was granted with the passage of the Legal Profession Amendment Act, 2012 in May of last year, and we are now developing the mechanics of how that regulation will be done. Regulating firms, in addition to individual lawyers, is critical to the Law Society’s ability to oversee the full breadth of activities performed by the profession.
I welcome the ideas and suggestions of the profession over the coming months and encourage you to contact me with your input. These are fascinating times for lawyers around the world, and, together with other players in the justice system, we can collectively have a dramatic impact for the sake of the public that supports and relies on us.