This article was originally published by The Lawyer’s Daily (www.thelawyersdaily.ca), part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.
By Jennifer Brun, CBABC President 2020/21
Lawyers and paralegals in British Columbia have been working together to provide client services for as long as there have been formal education programs for paralegals. This partnership brings together complementary skill sets, each founded through education, experiential training and ethical standards. Paralegals are defined by the BC Paralegal Association as those who “have legal training and knowledge of the substantive and procedural aspects of law and are capable of independent legal work, performed subject to the general supervision of a lawyer.”
Many lawyers meet the needs of clients through a practice model that encourages direct communication between the client and paralegal for information gathering, limited legal analysis and drafting of documents. Lawyers delegate as much of the legal work that can be done effectively by the paralegal to the paralegal, with the lawyer triaging the file and providing legal advice and representation. Triaging is determined by the lawyer and along with delegation, helps manage the overall client workflow and business operations in a cost-effective manner for the client.
Unfortunately, there are barriers to the widespread use of this model. These include a paralegal shortage outside the Greater Vancouver Area and limited knowledge and skills of lawyers about effective supervision of paralegals and streamlining of processes. Where successful, the paralegal-lawyer partnership is a symbiotic relationship premised upon a foundation of trust and mutual confidence in each other’s competency and commitment to excellence.
To date, paralegals in British Columbia have focused their efforts on gaining recognition for the education, training, and ethical standards maintained by paralegals; and the Canadian Bar Association, BC Branch (CBABC) supports this goal. The “designated paralegal” provisions introduced by the Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC) are a step toward recognition of the valuable role paralegals can play on a legal services team. Although designated paralegals may give legal advice, they can only do so under the supervision of a lawyer.
The discussions about alternative legal service providers continue within the LSBC and have now evolved beyond designated paralegals to include “regulatory sandboxes” — where anyone can propose a legal service to the public for LSBC consideration and work outside of the supervision of a lawyer if approved. During these uncertain and innovative times, CBABC will continue to promote three foundational values we believe are critical to meeting the needs of the public:
- Independence of the bar: Having a legal profession that is self-regulated by an effective agency independent of government is a fundamental tenet of a free and democratic society, and serves to protect solicitor-client privilege, loyalty to clients and confidentiality.
- Access to justice: The public must be able to understand the laws that govern our everyday interactions, have access to information about those laws, have access to people who can provide interpretation and analysis of those laws and be able to be represented by those who are competent and regulated as a profession.
- Effective regulation: An effective regulator that properly protects the public interest by establishing and enforcing qualifications for admissions and standards of professional conduct, mandating adequate insurance programs and ensuring the independence of the bar and the integrity, honour and competence of those serving British Columbians. Changes to the regulatory structure must protect against public confusion about the types and limitations of services provided by any particular legal service provider and enable the public to quickly assess whether a service provider is regulated or not.
CBABC questions whether a regulatory system that would enable the resolution of legal issues without advice or representation from a lawyer, or a designated paralegal under their supervision, is in the best interests of the public. Lawyers have achieved a significant level of education, meet ethical and professional standards and are accountable for their actions, all of which is required for them to provide legal services to the public. Legal services often touch the core of a person’s life experience and have significant consequences for individuals. Any changes to the regulation of alternative legal service providers must set clear expectations of education, training and professional standards.
As members of our self-governing profession continue this discussion and communicate their views to the benchers of the LSBC, CBABC will continue to offer solutions that promote the independence of the bar and effective regulation, while striving to increase access to justice for British Columbians.