The Law Society of B.C. has established a Licensed Paralegal Task Force that picks up where the Alternate Legal Service Provider Working Group, formed in January 2018, left off at year’s end.
“The new task force will take into consideration consultations by the working group as it consults broadly with the profession and others to identify opportunities for the delivery of legal services that would benefit the public in areas of substantial unmet legal need. It will also consider the education, qualifications, credentials and experience that would be required for licensed paralegals,” LSBC spokesman David Jordan said via email.
Currently, the LSBC does not regulate paralegals or designated paralegals (who have enhanced legal abilities) but exercises control over their actions through supervising lawyers. Under the 2018 proposal set out by the ALSPWG, a new category of legal service provider would be created, known as licensed paralegals in the statutory amendments in the Legal Profession Act, and these individuals could work independently of supervising lawyers.
However, lawyers attending the LSBC 2018 annual general meeting, presided over by then president and chairwoman of the ALSPWG Miriam Kresivo, voted to nix the idea.
The AGM membership passed a resolution that asked benchers to “request that the provincial government not pass regulations to bring the licensed paralegal amendments into force until the Benchers have had more time to complete their consultations regarding licensed paralegals; and not to authorize licensed paralegals to practice family law under the authority provided in the amendments to the Legal Profession Act.”
The resolution, although not binding on benchers, was taken into consideration along with feedback from the ALSPWG consultation paper “Family Law Legal Providers,” which looked at how licensed paralegals could be used in the family law field, one of seven areas identified in a 2014 report of expanding legal service providers to provide greater access to justice.
At the March 1 LSBC meeting, benchers passed a resolution to establish the Licensed Paralegal Task Force to reflect the amendment of the Legal Professions Act regarding licensed paralegals and set out a new mandate for the task force.
The mandate asks the task force to consider and identify opportunities for the delivery of legal services in areas where there is an unmet need and the public would benefit from the use of licensed paralegals. If the task force can identify those areas, it should also consider the scope of services that licensed paralegals could deliver, education and qualifications, credentials, experience and insurance, and make recommendations to the benchers on the regulatory framework required to implement a system.
The new paralegal task force is being chaired by Trudi Brown, a family law lawyer practising with Brown Henderson Melbye in Victoria. Brown was the winner of the 2017 Law Society Excellence in Family Law Award. At that time, Nanaimo-based Nancy Merrill, second vice president and chairwoman of the selection committee, called Brown “a trailblazer in family law in this province.” Merrill is now the 2019 president of the LSBC.
Vice chairman Michael Welsh, 2018-2020 bencher for the Okanagan area, is a partner in the Penticton firm Mott Welsh. He holds credentials as a qualified mediator, qualified arbitrator and a certified family arbitrator. He is also a past president of the Canadian Bar Association B.C. branch from 2016-2017. Before becoming a lawyer, Welsh landed a position with legal aid when it was expanded under the New Democratic Party. “Welsh worked as a community legal worker and helped out in administration from 1975 to 1978 for the Legal Services Society and the Westminster Community Legal Services Society,” according to a CBABC bio story on Welsh.
Other members of the Paralegal Task Force are: John-Paul Boyd, a family law arbitrator, family law mediator and parenting co-ordinator; David Dundee, with Kamloops-based Paul & Company, who practises primarily in the area of family law and who became a mediator in 1988; Joanna Recalma, a Nanaimo-based lawyer with First Nations roots, who runs a family law and child protection practice; Michele Ross, president of the B.C. Paralegal Association; advocacy manager Didi Dufresne, who holds a University of Victoria law degree and has experience in poverty law; and Nancy Carter, executive director, family policy, legislative and transformation division within the attorney general’s ministry.
It is not the first task force for Carter. In 2014, she sat on the Legal Services Framework Task Force, which tendered its report in December of that year. The task force had been created in December 2013 after the benchers considered an earlier report by the earlier Legal Service Providers Task Force, which examined unmet needs in the marketplace and who could practise law.
The Legal Services Framework Task Force of 2014 report concluded that justice could not be served unless there were new categories of legal service providers created and regulated by the law society. It also identified seven key areas where there was need: family law; employment law; debtor/credit law; advocacy for small claims court; advocacy for tribunals; traffic court infractions; and representation at mediation and arbitration.
The 2018 ALSPWG’s work and subsequent consultation paper built on the work of the previous 2014 report.
Ross, who represents paralegals in B.C. and asked to be included in the new task force, says she is pleased to be part of the new task force and hopes to make a valuable contribution.
“Regulation of paralegals in BC is not a new concept; however, what is new is the passing of the Attorney General Statutes Amendment Act, 2018, which includes amendments to the Legal Profession Act. With the passage of the amendments to the Legal Profession Act and the continued access to justice problems in B.C., now is the time,” she said in an email. “It is the BC Paralegal Association’s position that paralegals play a key role in facilitating improved access to justice and being part of the solution. I look forward to the future progress made by the Licensed Paralegal Task Force in developing the licensed paralegal initiative.”