Chipping Away at Access to Justice Barriers – One Innovation at a Time

How can we find ways to connect lawyers and paralegals to those who do not have access to legal services? How can we reduce linguistic, geographical, socio-economic and other barriers that make it harder for people in need of legal services to get them? What innovations might help address these challenges?

One area for innovation to facilitate access to justice is regulatory innovation. To make lawyer and paralegal services more accessible to the province’s most vulnerable, the Law Society of Ontario recently implemented a new regulatory framework that enables lawyers and paralegals employed by civil society organizations (CSOs), such as charities and not-for-profit organizations, to provide legal services directly to clients of the organization.

The framework was designed as a way of facilitating access to justice for Ontarians – particularly individuals who may have legal issues, but who have traditionally faced barriers to receiving legal advice from a lawyer or paralegal. This approach creates new inclusive entry points for vulnerable people to find legal services. It also enables integrated service delivery, so that people facing several issues, including legal issues, can have them addressed holistically.

The framework came into force on April 1, 2019. Full details on the framework are available in the Law Society’s Working Group’s October 2018 report.

CSOs may register with the Law Society, provided certain conditions are met, including that:

  • the licensee has control over the delivery of legal services;
  • solicitor-client privilege is protected;
  • the fundamentals of professionalism are safeguarded;
  • the legal services will be provided at no cost to the client;
  • CSOs may not refer clients to licensees in exchange for donations, payments or other considerations.

A CSO will be de-registered if these requirements continue to be met.

Lawyers and paralegals providing legal services through registered CSOs will continue to be fully regulated by the Law Society.

I invite organizations to learn more about this framework on our Civil Society Organizations webpage. The webpage also features a guide for registered charities and not-for-profit corporations considering applying and the registration form.

Through this initiative, we have adjusted the regulatory structure for civil services organizations to add legal services to the service offering they provide to the people they serve. That’s the essential logic: to find meaningful ways to allow legal services to be provided where there is the greatest need in a way which is effective. It’s a relatively small change to how lawyers and paralegals are regulated, but it’s one more way we can chip away at barriers to justice. Hopefully, in time this initiative will open up real possibilities for integrating legal services where people are most in need.

— Malcolm Mercer

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