“We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some of us are on super-yachts. Some have just the one oar.” -Damian Barr
Without question, the pandemic has altered the way lawyers practice law. There is increased efficiency in the operation of the courts and both judges and lawyers have skillfully adapted to incredible changes that would have seemed impossible to imagine let alone implement eighteen months ago. The expanded use of technology increased access to justice for many. Emergency orders offered the ability to execute various types of documents safely and remotely. Some of the changes will become permanent and that is good news for the public.
Other things haven’t changed. For example, not everyone has access to a computer or reliable internet services. Some members of society are marginalized and particularly vulnerable in times of social upheaval. While legal problems are experienced by persons in all socio-economic sectors of society, vulnerable persons may not be in a position to recognize their legal issues.
Civil Society Organizations
Social service agencies or “civil society organizations” do amazing work and provide all kinds of assistance to ensure the well-being of Manitobans. But what if organizations such as registered charities and not-for-profit organizations could enhance client service by having a lawyer on-site to address legal issues as a complement to its services? Think of a man arriving at a food bank to pick up a hamper. Imagine the conversation he could have if a lawyer was on the premises and available to offer some free legal help.
The potential benefits of allowing lawyers to provide their services through civil society organizations (registered charities and not-for-profit organizations) are numerous.
Clients would have quicker and more direct access to free legal services delivered by trained, licensed and insured lawyers. There would be opportunities for earlier identification and potential resolution of legal issues, leading to reduced client stress and enhanced outcomes and empowerment.
In addition to enhancing client service, charities and not-for-profits could enhance organizational capacity to identify and address client legal issues and provide more holistic services to clients.
Access to Justice Initiative
In the context of its work relating to the regulation of entities, a special committee studied some access to justice initiatives from other jurisdictions and considered the regulatory implications of allowing lawyers to deliver legal services to the public other than through the traditional law firm model. Recognizing that some members of the public are not able to afford a lawyer and must obtain support from social service agencies the committee considered how some might benefit from being met “where they are at” and gain access to lawyer services at a different and likely unexpected entry point.
Over the years, some have studied the notion of a “one-stop shop” where the public could obtain health services, for example, along with other services located either in the same building (co-location) or even under one umbrella organization. In some respects, the committee’s decision to recommend a new regulatory model that would allow lawyers to provide free legal services through civil society organizations is a nod to the one-stop shop advocates.
The committee determined that a lawyer wishing to provide such services through a civil society organization could do so as a volunteer or the organization could retain the lawyer as an independent contractor or an employee to provide legal services to its clients. Whatever the arrangement between a lawyer and an organization, all legal services would have to be provided at no cost to the clients. The committee also determined that organizations should be required to register with the Law Society and acknowledge that the legal services could only be provided subject to various conditions.
After adopting the committee’s report and recommendations, in the spring the Law Society of Manitoba Benchers passed new Rules and Code of Professional Conduct amendments to put in place the appropriate regulatory framework for this access to justice initiative.
The Law Society has encouraged lawyers to consider this new opportunity to improve access and has asked for assistance from the profession in getting the word out to registered charities and not-for-profits about this exciting initiative.
We are in the process of reaching out to various agencies and the media with information about this creative way to deliver legal services to those who may most need them.