Law Society of Saskatchewan amends Legal Profession Act to expand access to legal services

The Law Society of Saskatchewan has announced amendments to the Legal Profession Act, 1990, effective from 1 January 2020. The Law Society is an independent regulator with the core mandate of the protection of public interest.

In 2017 the Law Society and the Ministry of Justice established the Legal Services Task Team, comprised of lawyers, member of the public and other non-lawyers working in legal services, as part of the strategic plan to increase access to legal services. The task team was asked to explore the possibility of non-lawyers being allowed to provide low-risk legal services.

The team’s recommendations included clarifying the definition of the practice of law, and identifying what constituted unauthorised practice of law; expanding the list of exemptions to the unauthorised practice provisions; and creating limited licenses that may be granted by the Law Society on a case-by-case basis.

Amendments to the Act which have been introduced include:  a clearer definition of the practice of law and allowing limited licensing, the first example of this approach in Canada. The Law Society of Saskatchewan Rules were also amended to include an expanded list of exemptions to unauthorised practice. The Law Society is attempting to identify further groups and individuals providing limited legal services, who are not lawyers, that may not fall neatly within the new list of exemptions.

The Society is hoping to encourage low-risk providers to self identify to be considered for exemptions, especially as the Society has historically not pursued low-risk providers. The Society feels that self-identification will allow for more effective management and regulation of such providers.

Further information about the reforms is available here.

Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey reveals new legal regulation strategy

Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey has unveiled Bill 161, which is designed to both implement Legal Aid Services Act, as well as amending the Law Society Act. The act is designed to ease the regulatory burden, as well as creating some accountability from lawyers. Some of the proposed changes include:

  • raising maximum fines for lawyers to $100,000 from $10,000
  • adding to the circumstances in which a lawyer or paralegal’s license can be revoked
  • moving towards entity-based regulation by defining a “firm”

See the full proposals on the Legislative Assembly of Ontario site (PDF).

State Bar of California seeking public comments on regulatory reforms

The State Bar of California is seeking public comment on proposals for regulatory reform put forward by the Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services. The task force was set up to improve access to justice through regulatory reform, following a report in 2018 that suggested that regulation was limiting innovations which could improve the public availability of legal services (report available here). The task-force has unveiled sixteen concepts for regulatory reform, including allowing non-lawyers to hold financial interests in a  legal practice, and permitting fee-sharing between lawyers and non-lawyers. The Bar has now opened the options up to comment and they would appreciate the views of foreign regulators on their proposals.

The consultation closes on the 23rd September 2019. Full details of the consultation are available here.

LSB updates governance rules to “enhance regulatory independence”

A new set of rules have been released by the Legal Services Board (LSB), which aim to clarify the separation between representative bodies and their regulators. The internal governance rules (IGRs) have been published following a series of public consultations that first began in November 2017. The rules which were released by the oversight regulator provide and define the relationship between the approved regulator and the regulatory body can be viewed here. Legal regulators now have one year to implement changes to bring themselves in line with the new rules.

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California continues to debate division of regulation and representation functions

The California State Bar has been investigating the potential division of regulation and representation functions over the past five years. The Governance in the Public Interest Task Force concluded in 2017, launching a five-year strategic plan to “successfully transition to the ‘new State Bar’ — an agency focused exclusively on public protection through regulating the legal profession and promoting access to justice”.

Under the new system, the California State Bar will be a purely regulatory body. All representative functions will be transferred from the Bar to the  California Lawyers Association, a new professional entity.

Proponents and critics of the new system alike question how this new transition will impact the already uncertain financial footing of the Bar. However, the new strategy will strive to “Improve the fiscal and operational management of the State Bar, emphasizing integrity, transparency, accountability, and excellence.”

Read California’s new Five Year Strategy 

Governance Gone Wrong: Examining Self-Regulation of the Legal Profession

England and Australia have abandoned self-regulation of the legal profession yet Canadian law societies continue to function on this basis. This article argues that the self-regulatory model on which the Law Society of Ontario (the “LSO”) operates represents an inadequate form of governance in terms of the accountability it yields. When compared to other organizations, including law societies in other common law jurisdictions as well as corporations, the weaknesses in the LSO’s governance model are conspicuous. This article advocates replacing self-regulation in Ontario’s legal profession with a co-regulatory regime. In the absence of such an extensive reform, this article puts forward recommendations for changes to the current bencher model of governance on which the LSO is based including the implementation of bencher expertise requirements and a duty of loyalty and a duty of care to the public.

Paper Available Here

Anita Anand, University of Toronto – Faculty of Law