Lawyers as Low-Hanging Political Fruit

It seems funny to me that lawyers believe that we are complete masters of our own fate. We aren’t. Each province’s Law Society Act, which creates a monopoly for lawyers and allows us to be self-governing, was created and passed by the local legislature – and it can also be changed by the local legislature.

Now, if one looks at the current political environment across Canada we see a few interesting things.

British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia will all likely go to the polls in 2013.

The Ontario Liberal party is in the midst of a leadership campaign that will create a Premier early in 2013 before any election is called.

In other words, we have politicians across Canada searching for new ideas and concepts that will gain votes.

Access to justice has been a long simmering issue that has the attention of Supreme Court justices and the Governor General. Yet, it has not yet seeped into the mindset of provincial politicians.

Justice is unaffordable for far too many people in this country. And this lack of affordability is tied directly to the high costs of legal services.

As lawyers, we’ve done nothing to make justice more affordable on a wide scale. Doing the odd pro bono matter doesn’t put the slightest dent in this problem.

In addition, governments have no more money to give legal-aid, so any suggestion that legal aid funding must be increased is naïve and steeped in unreality.

The real answer to making justice affordable and accessible is to open up the delivery of legal services to more competition. To allow non-lawyers to create and fund entities that will employ lawyers and use their skills in ways that everyday Canadians can afford.

The model is already in place in Australia and in the UK. There is nothing to re-invent.

What politician wouldn’t win votes by pushing for more competition based on existing and fully tested models? Afterall, there are far more non-lawyer voters, than lawyer voters – and no one is going to shed a tear for a new model that will likely mean reduced income for lawyers.

In fact, I’m very surprised that no one in the Ontario Liberal leadership race has picked up on this.

It seems like such low-hanging fruit.

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Comments

  1. I agree, Mitch, that this is a direction that provincial governments are likely to and probably should explore. Law societies have been, I expect, preparing for that eventuality, since the review by the Competition Bureau several years ago.

    I take issue, however, with the phrase “The real answer to making justice affordable and accessible is….” I don’t believe there is just one solution to the access to justice “problem” just as there isn’t just one issue to be addressed. There are many routes we can take to increase and enhance access to justice in Canada. Your suggestion that going down the road of opening up competition is going to make it all better unnecessarily conflates the many complex issues surrounding access to justice in Canada.