LSUC is shaking up the legal profession in Ontario, and the proposed innovations – with our involvement and support – have the potential to greatly improve access to justice.
INNOVATION #1: EXPANDING THE ROLE OF PARALEGALS
LSUC has already considered granting more powers and appearance rights to paralegals. A motion to expand the role of paralegals was prepared for LSUC’s 2013 AGM, but it was abandoned at the last minute amidst the controversy surrounding the topic. This issue, however, is certain to come up again in the future.
With prices that are usually much lower than the price of a lawyer, expanding paralegal services would mean that more people can access the law and justice at a reasonable cost and this is a good thing. See my blog entry about this topic here.
INNOVATION #2: THE NEW LAW PRACTICE PROGRAM
When faced with the crisis of law school graduates not finding articling positions and therefore being unable to complete all the requirements of becoming a lawyer, LSUC decided to create the new Law Practice Program – an alternative lawyer licensing scheme with four months of classes and a four-month work placement. While the costs associated with this program have been unfairly placed on the backs of articling students, this new program represents another way in which access to justice can be improved. If you put aside the costs for a moment, this program guarantees that all law school graduates will be able to become lawyers regardless of whether or not they secure an articling position. More lawyers should bring the costs of legal services down (at least according to the traditional economic principles of supply and demand). See my blog entry about this topic here.
INNOVATION #3: ALTERNATIVE BUSINESS STRUCTURES IN THE PROVISION OF LEGAL SERVICES
LSUC is currently conducting a consultation on Alternative Business Structures, which, if adopted, would potentially allow non-lawyers to own law firms and other business entities other than law firms to provide legal services. This would spur many changes in the legal environment of Ontario and potentially promote innovative ways to make the law and justice more accessible and affordable. I’m sure many lawyers are against this new idea because it threatens the quasi-monopoly that lawyers have over providing legal services, but I think it has great potential to address and rectify the access-to-justice crisis currently facing the province.
INNOVATION #4: LAKEHEAD UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL
Lakehead University, in Thunder Bay, Ontario, has recently opened a law school with a special focus on aboriginal law. The hope is that the school’s location and particular focus will help encourage more lawyers to practice in Northern Ontario, where many communities lack sufficient access to legal services. In addition, students get a more practical-oriented degree and are allowed to skip the articling requirement, becoming lawyers simply by finishing the program and writing the bar exam. This helps access to justice because it will improve accessibility of legal services in Northern Ontario and, with a shorter program, it may encourage more people to go to law school who would not otherwise be able to afford law school and articling fees. Reduced fees may contribute to a greater racial and class diversity in law school students, and both of these things will potentially lead to more recent graduates to embark on careers in social justice.
THE MOVEMENT IS ONLY BEGINNING
I am sure there are and will continue to be resistance to these innovations because essentially, they threaten the status quo of the legal profession in Ontario. There are many lawyers who benefit directly from the status quo.
The problem, however, is that the status quo has led to an access-to-justice crisis and this needs to change. By increasing the role of paralegals, exploring Alternative Business Structures in the provision of legal services, and removing barriers to becoming a lawyer through the Law Practice Program and Lakehead’s unique law school, LSUC is innovating the legal profession in ways that can directly improve the access-to-justice crisis in Ontario.
The fundamental and most important question is…
As lawyers, students, citizens and access to justice allies, what can we do to ensure that the potential of these proposed innovations to improve access to justice is realized?