B.C. law society asks province to move forward on licensing of paralegals

By Ian Burns

Law360 Canada (March 13, 2023, 1:50 PM EDT) -- The B.C. law society has formally requested the province to bring into force amendments to the Legal Professions Act which would allow for the licensing of paralegals.

The resolution formalizing the request was unanimously agreed to at the law society’s March 10 bencher meeting. The amendments to the Act were outlined in a 2018 bill and establishes new classes of legal service providers to engage in the practice of law, sets the credentialling requirements for such individuals and regulates their practice, but the legislation has not yet been brought into force by the provincial government.

Law society executive director and CEO Don Avison said licensed paralegals are an “important part of the equation” in addressing some of the access to justice gaps in British Columbia.

“This is one element of addressing the access gap — shortfalls in funding of legal aid, particularly in the family law context, is an area we will continue to address,” he said. “But this is the next important step of moving things along.”

The resolution also requested the law society to take the necessary steps to provide for the licensing of paralegals, including the development of processes and procedures and proposing to the benchers any required changes to the law society rules consistent with the authority provided in the amendments.

Bencher Jacqueline McQueen noted that people have raised concerns that there isn’t enough conclusive data that licensing paralegals is going to make a difference in terms of the access to justice question, but said that “something doesn’t have to be a complete solution to be a meaningful one.”

“We need to be pragmatic at this table and use the tools which are available to us, and this is an obvious tool that has been available to us for some time, so it’s about time we moved forward in order to try to expand service providers,” she said. “Lack of data shouldn’t be a barrier to us taking pragmatic steps to move forward.”

Benchers also voted to change the barristers and solicitor’s oath to include a recognition and affirmation of the Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. The motion also passed with unanimous support, which bencher Sasha Hobbs said was an indication of “how much we have moved forward in this province.”

The law society also amended its rule on public notice of suspensions or disbarments, which it said would better reflect current communication norms. Currently, this requires publishing a notice in the British Columbia Gazette, a newspaper of general circulation in each municipality and the electoral district in which the person maintained a law office, and on the law society website.

But director of policy and planning Michael Lucas noted the rule had not been substantively updated since 1998. The updated wording gives the executive director discretion to determine how to give immediate effective public notice of the suspension, disbarment or resignation of a lawyer.

The law society’s next meeting is scheduled for April 28.

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