Chief justice's speech sends important message

Toronto paralegal Marian Lippa says that as access to justice becomes a growing problem, Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin has sent an important message to lawyers about the need to loosen their dominance over the delivery of legal services.

“It’s significant that the chief justice has emphasized a need for change,” she tells

Lippa, a bencher with the Law Society of Upper Canada, says McLachlin’s recent speech to the Canadian Bar Association conference was "powerful" and highlighted some of the challenges facing Canada’s justice system – including the need to improve access to affordable legal services.

McLachlin said: “In the age of the Internet, people are questioning why they, the consumers of legal product, should be forced to go to expensive lawyers working in expensive office buildings located in expensive urban centres. Why, they ask, should a client retain lawyers, when integrated professional firms can deliver accounting, financial and legal advice?”

The chief justice said the old assumptions about the legal profession are being questioned and that moving forward, efficiency and affordability will be key, reports Legal Feeds, the blog of Canadian Lawyer and Law Times magazines.

"We must not close our minds to the changes that are being increasingly forced upon us," she said.

Although Lippa doesn't agree with any suggestion that non-legal firms should be able to service legal needs to the public as "there is no certainty that it will assist with access to affordable legal services," she points to expanding the scope of work for paralegals to help the areas of law that are in crisis, such as family law, in the alternative as they are already licensed, insured and governed by the LSUC.

She hopes the chief justice's comments will act as a catalyst for more discussion around what changes need to occur in the system and in particular, open the door to a more fulsome debate about how to make paralegals part of the solution to those challenges.

In 2006, the Law Society Act was amended by the Access to Justice Act to allow the regulation of paralegals. Under the act, all paralegals practising in Ontario have to be licensed by the Law Society of Upper Canada. In 2007, Ontario became the first jurisdiction in North America to regulate paralegals.

Their scope of practice includes representing people in small claims and provincial offences courts, some criminal cases and some immigration matters, as well as appearing before boards and tribunals.

Other jurisdictions, including including Washington State and the United Kingdom, have already permitted non-lawyers to represent family law litigants.

Lippa points to the 2012 Morris Report, the five-year review of paralegal regulation in Ontario, which recommended that “opportunities should continue to be sought to broaden the scope of paralegal practice” and that this should occur in “lock-step with improvements in the standards of learning, professional competence and professional conduct of the paralegal sector."

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