On my commute yesterday morning, i caught the tail end of The Early Edition on CBC discussing the new Access to Justice BC program. Once I arrived at work I eagerly googled to learn more about the program.
The group involves ordinary citizens as well as members of the justice system who plan to work together to look at issues related to access to justice. Throughout my years working in at the Legal Services Society, as well as my undergraduate education at Simon Fraser University, I became very interested and passionate about issues relating to access to justice. I'm very interested to see where this program goes, particularly the CBC article indicated that reforms could include changes such as "allowing paralegals and law students to represent clients in court."
Another optimistic aspect of this program is that Robert Bauman, the Chief Justice of BC has been quoted saying that "[w]e're looking for action, we're not looking for reports" so hopefully we will see actual change stemming out of this partnership.
Stay tuned for more updates on this project!
BC Moves to an Online Forum to Deal with Small Claims Matters and Strata Disputes: Will this Mean Changes to the Role of Paralegals?
Starting later this year, BC will move small claims matters worth under $10,000 and strata disputes online. It won’t be mandatory from the outset, although Victoria has indicated that it soon will be.
The program will include three phases: party to party negotiations, a facilitation phase (similar to mediation) and adjudication. The judgements will have the same force as a court ruling. The program will have staff who will monitor parties’ progress.
The hope is that this program will be faster and less expensive. The plan is that the process will take no more than 60 days and won’t cost more than the filing fees. Litigants don’t need to appear online – everything takes place online.
Decisions in the Civil Resolution Tribunal will hold the same force as a court ruling. Decisions can also be appealed – albeit in limited situations. Strata appeals can be heard in the BC Supreme Court and the Provincial Court will hear small claims appeals.
While BC isn’t the first place to implement a program such as this (some European countries are well ahead of us), it is the first province in Canada to implement such a program.
This move represents a decrease of reliance on lawyers, as the program is intended to simplify the process and increase access to justice. As such, it seems an excellent place to expand the duties and responsibilities of paralegals in BC. If the role of paralegals was expanded, we could step in to provide a lower cost option for people who aren’t comfortable going through the process on their own.
At LegalProse, we use a software program called Tresorit to exchange and store information. This program allows us to work remotely but still have access to all the file information that we need. It also enables us to email secure links back and forth.
Tresorit is a zero-knowledge system, which means that the information is encrypted before it is sent and can only be opened by those who get shared access. Additionally, all the information is stored in the European Union and is protected by Swiss privacy laws.
Tresorit is so confident in their security that they have offered a $50,000 prize to anyone who can hack their system. Over 1000 people have tried over 468 days but no one has succeeded.
How does it work?
At our initial LegalProse meeting or telephone call, we set you up with your own Tresorit account and folder for document transmission. When you need something done, simply put the files and instructions in the secure data transfer box and we will complete the request and leave your completed work in the folder, as well as send you an email to let you know it's been completed.
Sound too complicated? We can also send a secure encrypted link and you can access your completed work directly in your inbox.
Is it expensive?
Tresorit costs $12.50/month per user. This plan includes 100 GB of storage. We set up the account for you and you'll see that cost in your monthly bill from us. If you don't use our service for a month, then we cancel your account and there is no charge.
Any questions? Email me and I'd be happy to clarify!
In British Columbia, we have a specific group of paralegals that are considered to be "designated paralegals." According to the Law Society, a designated paralegal is one who is able to "give legal advice and represent clients before court or tribunal. " They are also able to give and receive undertakings, and to represent clients at a family law mediation.
There are several limits on this designation, however. With regards to a paralegal attending at a family law mediation, the supervising lawyer must be available by telephone or other electronic means throughout and they must approve whatever agreement is made at the mediation. Additionally, a lawyer can only supervise two designated paralegals at one time.
Also, it is the job of the supervising lawyer to decide, on a case by case basis, whether a paralegal has the skills, training and good character to act as a designated paralegal. A designated paralegal cannot move necessarily move to a new firm and stay designated - they would need to find another lawyer who was willing to supervise them in their designated paralegal capacity.
The designated paralegal category is a fairly new. It was approved in June of 2012 and implemented in January 2013. The main goal of the program is to provide improved access to justice through lower cost legal assistance. The project started as a pilot, but it has continued on. The Law Society launched a survey to gather information about lawyer's experience with the program in Fall, 2015.
It's a very interesting idea, and a step towards the program that Ontario has in place (more on that next time!). However, in my preliminary internet searches, it doesn't appear that there are many designated paralegals practicing now.
Perhaps that's because:
I'll keep watch for the designated paralegal lawyer survey to see if they can shed any light on the current state of the program.
When I tell people about LegalProse, one of the most common questions I get is, "what exactly does a paralegal do?" It's easy to forget that something so engrained in your day to day life can be completely foreign to others. Clearly - it's a topic worth discussing.
Because paralegals are not regulated in BC, there is not one specific definition of a paralegal. The Law Society of BC defines a paralegal as a
However, I think that a more useful definition, which helps to describe the duties of a paralegal, as well as the education they receive is:
I'm hopeful that my definition provides interested individuals with a more full picture of what a paralegal does and what their duties typically entail. If anyone has any suggestions as to a better definition, I would love to hear them!
BC also has a category of paralegal described as a "designated paralegal" but we will discuss that in detail next time! Thanks for reading!
In my experience, paralegal careers are often overlooked and left largely unexplained to the general public. In fact, this morning over breakfast, I learned that my boyfriend has absolutely no idea what I do all day.