Reform Must Promote a Diverse Legal Profession


Reform Must Promote a Diverse Legal Profession

The Ministry of Attorney General proposes to change the way legal professionals are regulated by amalgamating the Law Society of British Columbia and the Society of Notaries Public of British Columbia into a single regulator, which would govern lawyers, notaries, and paralegals in B.C.

In September 2022, you are most likely aware that the Ministry outlined its proposed reforms and solicited engagement from the public. In November, the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (British Columbia) Society (FACL BC) shared its views on this proposal with the Ministry.

The proposed changes are aimed at, among other things, improving access to justice, furthering reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, ensuring a diverse board, and protecting the independence of the Bar. Although these goals are laudable, the Ministry says little about how the proposed reforms will achieve them. Indeed, some proposals appear to undermine those goals, particularly that of a diverse board.

The proposed reforms include:

  • Consolidating regulation of the legal profession into a single statute and single regulator.
  • Reducing the size of the board governing the regulator, a minority of whom would be appointed by the government and some number of whom would be elected by licensees.
  • Licencing paralegals, including customizing the extent of paralegals’ licencing based on their specific training and expertise.

Consolidating regulation under a single statute and single regulator could theoretically facilitate a clear mandate and operational efficiency, but the effectiveness of such consolidation will depend on the precise mechanics of its implementation.

Reducing the size of the governing board is a serious concern and will certainly reduce diversity in those who govern the legal profession. The Ministry contemplates a board composed of elected directors, government-appointed directors, and directors appointed by other members of the board. Given a size of 15 directors total and a relative balance between the different classes of directors, the proposed board would likely consist of 5-7 elected directors. Of the current elected Law Society Benchers, almost half are racialized. Five are Indigenous. Reducing 25 elected Benchers to five to seven elected directors would reduce the number of racialized elected directors drastically. The current composition of the Benchers is not an accident. It is the result of decades of racialized lawyers working toward progress in the profession. Understood in this context, the Ministry’s proposal simply cannot and will not increase representation.

Moreover, requiring that elected directors come from all regulated legal professions and geographic regions will likely create further obstacles to electing a diverse board. To address this, the Ministry proposes reforming the electoral model, legislating a guaranteed Indigenous appointee, and using the appointment of directors by other board members to fill any identified or anticipated “gaps” in representation. However, it is difficult to see how these measures can adequately and equitably address the representation problems caused by such a drastic reduction in board size.

That said, some of the proposed reforms would likely have positive effects. Licencing paralegals, including tailored licencing based on individuals’ demonstrated competence, could reduce fees and thereby broaden access to justice. Specifically defining the term “paralegal” could protect those unfamiliar with the legal system in B.C. from being duped, especially if English is not their first language. Most significantly, decreasing barriers to entry to providing legal services may allow a broader range of people, including foreign-trained legal service providers, to access the market and leverage their expertise and diverse perspectives for public benefit.

Ultimately, although some of the Ministry’s proposals are laudable, there are serious problems with some of the proposals, including the reduction in the size of the board. For more on FACL BC’s view on the proposed regulatory reforms, see its full position paper.