Access to Justice -
Alternate Delivery of Legal Services
A properly functioning justice system is a core value in our democratic society. The ability of individuals to enforce or defend legal rights in an effective and meaningful way, regardless of economic status, is critical in such a system yet remains a theoretical ideal.
That is why promoting access to high quality legal services is a stated objective of the Law Society of Alberta in its Strategic Plan for 2010-2013.
This objective is shared by Alberta Justice. Based on this common intent, in 2009, Alberta Justice proposed through its then Minister, the Honourable Alison Redford, QC that the Law Society develop public policy recommendations that outline the ways and means by which the expanded use of non-lawyers, or paralegals, might enhance access to legal services for Albertans. The greater deployment of non-lawyers, or paralegals, to deliver legal services to the public is referred to as the Alternate Delivery of Legal Services or ADLS. The Access to Legal Services Steering Committee was appointed by then Minister Redford to oversee two Access to Justice initiatives currently of interest to both organizations:
- Alternate Delivery of Legal Services
- Limited Scope Retainers
The steering committee is comprised of representatives from the Law Society of Alberta, Alberta Justice, the Alberta Courts, Canadian Bar Association, Alberta branch and Legal Aid Alberta.
The Law Society was tasked with the inquiry into the alternate delivery of legal services and constituted the ADLS Committee to proceed on the basis that its work needed to be principled, evidence-based and consensus-driven.
The mandate of the ADLS Committee was to explore the proposition that it would be good public policy if non-lawyers were more generally entitled to deliver legal services, thus increasing the supply of legal services and making them more generally available to Albertans.
Sierra Systems was retained to conduct interviews with justice system stakeholders in order to identify issues and develop the framework for inquiry. Ipsos Reid was hired to conduct opinion surveys of the general Alberta population and the Alberta legal profession on attitudes and experiences in both receiving and providing legal services. Independent social policy researcher Patricia Leake, MPP, compiled an industry profile of the independent paralegal industry in Alberta. Bottom Line Research completed a jurisdictional review of legal profession statutes in Canada to catalogue the scope of permissible non-lawyer or paralegal activity across the country.
During the course of the project, there were many assumptions about the delivery of legal services that were confirmed. However, there were several surprises that shaped the conclusions reached by the Committee and ultimately adopted by the Benchers. Sole practitioners and lawyers in small firms occupy the field of providing personal legal services to the middle income group with good satisfaction and little controversy. Rather, the information gathered identifies the low income group in Alberta as experiencing difficulties with both the legal system and access to legal services.
In the result, the ADLS Committee concluded that it would best maintain its access to justice mandate by focusing on solutions for the underserved low income group in Alberta. These are people who lack the financial means, and in many circumstances, the necessary coping skills, to meaningfully interact with the justice system in all its facets. They tend to have more such interactions and their experiences are different than those of Albertans with means. As a consequence, the ADLS Committee honed its recommended strategy on addressing the needs of this particular group.
The ADLS Final Report (February 2012) is the culmination of the Law Society’s inquiry into the alternate delivery of legal services and resulted in the following recommendations being adopted by the Benchers:
- Recommendation – Definition of the Practice of Law
- That a definition of the practice of law be pursued with Alberta Justice based on the key principles enumerated in the Report for amendment to the Legal Profession Act.
- Recommendation – Access to Justice/Legal Services focus
- That the Law Society continue to support and facilitate the expansion of legal services by non-lawyers under the supervision of a lawyer in areas of high need for low income Albertans, particularly in the government and not-for-profit sector.
Resources & Reports
ADLS Final Report (February 2012)
ADLS Report to the Benchers (September 29, 2011)
Phase Two Report - Interim Report to Benchers (April 7-8, 2011)
Discussion Paper: A Model Definition of the Practice of Law (March 8, 2011)
Ipsos Reid - General Consumer Survey Results (May 18, 2010)
Phase One Report - Issues Identification (July 6, 2009)
For further information contact: Policy and Governance Department: Susan V.R. Billington, QC, Policy and Program Counsel at 403-229-4705 or by email.