The legal profession throughout most of Canada enjoys the privilege of self-regulation and a (purported) monopoly over legal practice. In Ontario, the Law Society must regulate so as to facilitate access to justice and protect the public interest. Critics argue that self-regulation is anti-competitive it allows the profession to control the market for legal services, increasing the cost of services and restricting access to them and serves professional interests over the public interest. The Ontario government introduced paralegal regulation to enhance access to justice. Regulation would increase consumer choice and the competence and affordability of non-lawyer legal service providers. The Law Society agreed to regulate paralegals in the public interest. After decades of discord between lawyers and non-lawyers, paralegal regulation was implemented in 2006. Many were opposed to lawyers regulating competitors. For some, it was akin to having the fox watch over the chickens. It also confounded self-regulation the legal profession now regulating itself and others. Paralegals are licensed to provide legal services directly to the public independent of lawyers but they are regulated by lawyers. The Law Society has declared paralegal regulation a success and itself the right choice of regulator. This dissertation explores whether paralegal regulation has increased access to justice, as the government promised and Law Society claims. It examines the history of the legal profession and Law Society in Ontario and the events leading to paralegal regulation. Using both market control and the cultural history of the legal profession as theoretical underpinnings, and through the lens of access to justice, this dissertation analyzes the Law Societys exercise of regulatory authority over paralegals and undertakes empirical research of paralegal representatives at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal. This dissertation concludes that paralegal regulation has done little to increase access to justice and that self-regulation and the Law Societys manner of regulating are barriers to increased access to justice.
In 2021 the California State Bar published a consultation on a potential new paraprofessional license designed to ease the access to justice problem being experienced in the state. This new type of legal paraprofessional is intended to be a cheaper alternative to a fully licensed lawyer and would only be able to offer a very restricted set of services.
The consultation has drawn a mixed response, with 800 of the reported 1,318 responses directly opposing the new license and a further 325 supporting modifications to the license as proposed. Much of this opposition came from attorneys, with 94% of this respondent group opposing the proposal. Interestingly, 87% of consumers who responded to the consultation supported the proposed new license.
The Oregon State Bar has released plans for the introduction of licensed paraprofessionals, in a public consultation. It is proposing to restrict this new paraprofessional to practice in two areas of law, family and landlord/tenant issues. This is intended to help at least some of the 84% of Oregon residents who cannot currently access the legal help they need, easing pressures on access to justice in the state.
Other US States have had mixed success in trying to introduce paraprofessional qualifications. In 2022 the Washington State Supreme Court made the decision to sunset its Limited License Legal Technician scheme, while the State Bar of California has faced a negative reaction to its own 2021 consultation on a paraprofessional license.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority of England and Wales has launched research to identify gaps in access to justice. The research will focus on where gaps exist across England and Wales and what impact these could have on different groups of consumers. The project will include an investigation into how factors such as ethnicity and socio-economic status impact access to legal services.
The research will be conducted by a team from the City of London University.
Lawyers in the state of Victoria have been warned about their public conduct. Fiona McLeay’s December 2021 report sets out the importance of balance between access to justice and acting in a client’s best interests.
The report reminds lawyers to think carefully before advising communities to pursue cases which will likely not be successful in court or are not in the pursuant best interests. Crowdfunding got a special mention, noting it can improve access to justice by bridging the funding gap but must be balanced against what is in the best interests of those receiving the funding. Especially if the crowdfunding is being run by the client’s lawyer.
The consultation, which closed on 12th January, focused on the potential licensing of a new legal service provider, the paraprofessional. It is hoped this new legal qualification will improve access to justice by creating a new professional to provide routine legal services at a more affordable rate.
The Legal Services Act 2007 was devised to effectuate a wide ranging reform in favour of access to justice, bringing about profound transformations to the legal services market. The essay examines the various mechanisms contrived to operate in the consumers’ interest, as well as the impact of technology disruption on the private and business segments of the legal services market.
Kim, Habbine Estelle, (2016). How Consumer-Focused Innovations in the Legal Services Market Invigorate Access to Justice.
The Law Society of Saskatchewan Canada has issued an article written by the Future of Legal Services committee entitled ‘Better connecting consumers of legal services and alternative legal providers’ to highlight access to justice information.
The article focuses on how legal information can help and the different ways lawyers can be more transparent about billing practices and services when communicating them to clients.
In 2020 the Law Society of Alberta took the Lawyer Referral Service back in house, and launched a survey to gather the input of key stakeholders regarding the service.
After many years being run by Calgary Legal Guidance, in March 2020, the Law Society took LRS back in-house. This was partly to better understand how the service meets the needs of the public. Through the first year of in-house operation at the Law Society, more than 17,000 Albertans contacted LRS and were matched with lawyers who participate in the program.
This year, the Law Society of Alberta launched a survey seeking input from clients who had used the service, as well as lawyers who participate in the LRS. This brought back some positive results, suggesting clients who had used the service had often retained the services of the lawyer they were put in contact with. The detailed results of this survey will help the Law Society of Alberta in its goal of improving access to justice and will be followed by a roundtable in November to discuss the operation of the LRS and how it can be improved.
The State Bar of California is seeking to solve the issue of access to justice many residents suffer given the high cost of legal services, by establishing a new paraprofessional. They estimate 85% of legal problems received no or inadequate help. It is hoped a new more affordable legal professional would go some way to mitigating this issue, which is faced not just in California but across the whole country.
This consultation with the public is aimed at informing them about what this paraprofessional would be, described as “to a lawyers what a nurse practitioner is to a doctor.” Members of the public are invited to feedback their thoughts until January 2022.