No Easy Answer on Access to Justice

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When lawyers say they can’t afford their own services, you might have an access to justice problem.

Regina lawyer Alex Shalashniy said during the CBA Legal Futures Initiative’s Twitter chat Tuesday night that he’s heard lawyers admitting they would be unable to pay their own fees if they needed a lawyer – something he calls a “telling illustration” of the access to justice problem in Canada.

A number of people participating in the third weekly Twitter chat, this one dealing with how legal services can be changed to increase access, pointed to cost as a barrier.

Corinne Boudreau, owner of Two Certainties Law in Halifax, wrote, “I think that hourly billing hurts access to justice because many individuals cannot write a blank cheque.”

 “Over-reliance on (expensive, hourly) lawyers, lack of education for young lawyers re: discussing fees and billing,” are problems, added another Halifax lawyer, Amy Sakalauskas.

One participant, with the Twitter handle @MarieMachete, suggested that reversing legal aid cuts would help the problem. @MarieMachete is a third-year law student in the U.K. where cuts of £350 million from a £2-billion legal aid budget mean aid centres are closing and things like getting an amicable divorce will be much harder in the future.

Jay Michi, a third-year student at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, says law schools are oriented toward producing lawyers for big law firms – an orientation that needs to change in order to improve access.

Law schools should promote access-to-justice-friendly careers, suggests Sarah Glassmeyer, director of content development for the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction.

Or helping the poor should be treated as something lawyers are required to do via pro bono.  Erin Durant, a commercial litigation and employment lawyer in Barrie, Ont., suggested that pro bono hours be treated by law societies just like CPD – a requirement for continuation of law licences – though she admitted she was “stirring the pot” with that suggestion, and didn’t expect it would happen.

Sakalauskas and Osgoode Law student Kwaku Tabi both pointed to a lack of diversity in the legal profession as a barrier to access. A more representative legal community makes for much more trust, when clients can speak to a lawyer to whom they can relate, says Tabi.

“If ‘justice’ lacks in recruitment as evidenced by (this Law Times article),” asked moderator Omar Ha-Redeye, “can firms truly offer public justice?”

October 25, 2013 |
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