I’ve written about the proposed merger of notaries and lawyers in the past, and I continue to get questions about it. Broader national and global events, as well as recent history here in BC, may help put the issue in perspective.
In Canada, Ontario has already included paralegals in its regulatory structure. In much of the Commonwealth, paralegals and other non-lawyer service providers are part of the regulatory structure. In Washington State, legal technicians are licensed and regulated. All these steps and others are aimed at increasing access to legal services.
Notaries in British Columbia are already licensed and regulated. So a merger is a good fit if both organizations support it.
The merger proposal began with meetings between the Law Society, the Society of Notaries Public of BC, and the provincial government. The notaries had sought a legislative amendment expanding their scope of practice, and in response the Law Society suggested leveling the playing field with a unified regulatory regime for all legal services providers.
The upshot was a letter from then-Minister of Justice Shirley Bond to both groups, in effect telling us to sort it out among ourselves and submit a joint proposal for regulatory reform. The goal of the proposal, as described by Minister Bond, would be threefold:
- Ensure, and preferably enhance, the protection of the public interest in the provision of legal services;
- Increase both affordability and access to legal services and/or access to justice; and
- Create efficiencies in the regulation of legal services.
In August 2012 the two societies issued a joint response. Both agreed that a regulatory body that oversees all legal service providers in BC was the optimum model.
In December 2013 the Law Society’s Legal Service Provider Task Force delivered a report recommending that the Law Society seek to merge regulatory operations with the Society of Notaries Public. The recommendation was unanimously approved by the Benchers.
We’ve been moving forward since then. The Law Society has formed two working groups to explore key issues: governance and scope of practice. The working groups were asked to consider what the governance structure of the merged societies would look like, and what kinds of standards, training and oversight would be necessitated by the increased scope of services proposed.
In the accounting profession the three accounting regulatory bodies recently merged (CAs, CMAS and CGAs). In the securities area there are ongoing discussions about potentially merging provincial securities regulators.
The possibility of a regulatory merger provides a unique opportunity to reconcile the legal and notary professions in the interest of the public and provide increased access to affordable legal services as well as a more efficient regulatory system.
I am proud of the progressive steps being taken by the Law Society to be inclusive and to bring greater access to legal services to the public.