NEEDED: PUBLIC FEEDBACK ON FAMILY LEGAL SERVICES IN ONTARIONSRLP
The Bonkalo Review of Family Legal Services in Ontario
Justice Annemarie Bonkalo was appointed in February 2016 by the Ministry of the Attorney-General (or MAG, the legal department of the Ontario government) and the Law Society of Upper Canada (or LSUC, which oversees the legal profession in Ontario) to lead a review of who can offer family legal services in Ontario.
At that time, only lawyers could offer family legal services. Paralegals, who offer some types of legal assistance, were restricted from assisting family litigants. However, many family litigants are unable to afford the services of a lawyer.
This led to calls – including from the NSRLP – to loosen restrictions on paralegals to enable them to also offer services to family clients. Paralegals charge significantly less per hour than lawyers – however they have not previously had experience in serving family clients. This was the core of the question that the Bonkalo Review was asked to consider.
The recommendations of Justice Bonkalo have now been published, and there will be a consultation and feedback period. It is critical that the voice of the public is heard. We at the NSRLP strongly encourage you to submit your feedback (to email@example.com) on the key recommendations, which are outlined below.
- The Law Society of Upper Canada will create a special licence for paralegals to provide certain types of legal services in family law. This licence will be issued to paralegals who have successfully completed specialized training in family legal services.
- Licenced paralegals will be allowed to offer family services that include assisting with custody and access issues, simple child support cases, restraining orders, and divorces without property.
- Licenced paralegals will be able to provide a full range of services in relation to these matters, up to and including representation in court. However, if a case goes to a full contested trial (rather than, for example, a settlement conference or a motion requesting an order) the paralegal may not appear. (Note that very few family cases go to a full trial.)
- Paralegals will not be able to offer services for complex support issues, child protection, divorces involving property, and child abduction cases.
- Family lawyers are encouraged to consider offering “unbundled legal services” (where a client contracts for certain services and pays by the hour up to a specified limit, rather than a retainer plus unlimited hours as in the traditional arrangement). Justice Bonkalo noted that many SRLs want these services, but relatively few lawyers provide them as yet. Justice Bonkalo also noted that “legal coaching” – where a lawyer contracts with a primarily self-represented person to assist them to develop and present their own case – was another way in which family lawyers could help meet the needs of the public in an affordable way.
The above is a summary of some of the main recommendations of the Bonkalo Review. The full review and recommendations can be read here.
We want to strongly encourage all those who have been or who are currently self-represented family litigants (in any province, but especially in Ontario) to send comments to the Bonkalo Review at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feedback can be submitted until May 15, 2017.
Public support for these important recommendations is critical to ensuring they are implemented.