My Experience Participating in the LSBC Innovation Sandbox


My Experience Participating in the LSBC Innovation Sandbox

My name is Kate Hanen and I live in Dawson Creek, B.C. in the northeastern part of the province. I am a participant in the Law Society of BC’s Innovation Sandbox. The Innovation Sandbox provides a framework for non-lawyers to provide legal services. My goal was to open a private office where clients could attend for legal advice or guidance. I wanted to provide legal assistance for those unable to access a full-service lawyer.

Dawson Creek has a population of approximately 13,000 residents and there are only five law firms in our city. We do not have family justice counsellors. We have one Native Court Worker who serves multiple communities across the region whose total population is over 35,000 residents.

Hoping to ease some of the burden on the few resources we do have, I submitted a proposal to the Innovation Sandbox. Citing my decade of working in the justice system, I proposed to offer legal advice, representation, and general guidance for criminal and civil matters. To the Law Society’s credit, the application process is seamless, albeit lengthy. The staff tasked with administrating the program are helpful and knowledgeable. I waited nine months and received my approval in July of 2022. I was able to provide legal advice and general guidance to clients with respect to Motor Vehicle Act and Criminal Code matters.

Elated at being approved, I went into the venture full force. Went ahead and leased an office space and hired an assistant. Reached out to local media, got in the paper, and was interviewed on air for CBC Daybreak North. Hoping that, and word of mouth, would be enough to bring clients in. After a few weeks of nothing I decided to meet with community groups and let them know of my services, hoping they could refer some patrons to me. I also offered the group workshops and clinic days where they could pay me a flat fee covering my costs for their clients. It was in meeting with these groups I realized I’d made a very large mistake. I did not do any market research. Yes, there is a definite need for the type of legal services I attempted to provide, but the people who need it most cannot afford it. A need does not equal a market. I had to close my doors after only a few months.

Although my business did not succeed, I continue to believe that the model put forth through the Innovation Sandbox is welcome and needed. However, the services provided by all of the participants (myself included) imply a level of prosperity that many British Columbians do not have. This could be anything from the ability to travel to a larger centre to obtain the services of a lawyer, or even the ability to access a computer with internet and/or a printer. It did not matter that I was only $40 an hour, I too became unaffordable. If the goal is to improve access to justice for everyone in British Columbia, it is time for the government to expand access and funding for free legal services.

I look forward to a time when community groups will have court advocates who can offer legal advice and guidance; when in-person Family Justice Counsellors are available to all residents of the province, not merely in Greater Victoria or Vancouver; when legal aid is expanded and when mental health and addictions programs are bolstered. This is when access to justice is improved for all.