The Public Interest and a Single Legal Regulator


The Public Interest and a Single Legal Regulator

The British Columbia government has proposed that one entity should regulate lawyers, notaries and paralegals. The stated rationale is that this will lead to legal services being more accessible to the public.

The Law Society, like every group and individual involved in the justice system, considers access to justice a priority. There can be no doubt that many members of the public in B.C. simply do not have access to legal services. According to a 2020 Law Society survey, around 60% of British Columbians facing legal issues do not receive legal advice from anyone, which is alarming and speaks to the lack of an accessible justice system. No matter how strong, how impartial, how fair a legal system is, if the majority of people can’t access it, it is flawed.

The question is, therefore, can a single legal regulator address this problem? I would say that it is one potential tool. There are others: a properly funded legal aid system, the Law Society Innovation Sandbox, and elevated use of clinics like the Rise Women’s Legal Centre and the Indigenous Justice Centres. Properly conceived and organized, the single legal regulator could be one further instrument to increase access to justice. It can do this by providing an alternative, hopefully at a lower cost, to seeking legal advice from lawyers. A single legal regulator would be in a position to ensure that the legal needs of the public can be provided by ensuring all legal professionals are licensed, competent, ethical and held accountable in a consistent manner.

A key component of this proposal is a flexible, competency-based approach to licensing all legal professionals, including lawyers, notaries and paralegals. While lawyers, notaries and paralegals may have different areas of practice, they would all be subject to the same high standards of competence, integrity and professional conduct. The Law Society supports a model where the regulator has the flexibility to ensure that every legal professional is competent in their area of practice. It does not favour a legislated scope of practice, as it would not offer the required degree of flexibility and could unnecessarily restrict the ability of trained professionals to offer appropriate legal services to the public.

Any proposed regulatory scheme must ensure the independence of the legal profession. While the Law Society supports the single legal regulator proposal in principle, the regulator and its board must remain truly independent. By the very nature of their work, legal professionals will inevitably find themselves representing clients whose interests diverge from those of the state. Those professionals must know that the body that regulates them is also independent of government influence.

Further, the board of the regulator must reflect the diversity of our population. There are currently more than 14,000 lawyers in B.C. There are fewer than 500 notaries, and so far, no licensed paralegals. Given their different roles, and the fact that by far the majority of current legal professionals are lawyers, the board should continue to be made up of a majority of lawyers. The elected model has served us well in the past and should continue to do so. Finally, any new legislation must enable the regulator, not the government, to maintain its broad, independent authority to regulate the competence and integrity of all legal service providers in B.C.