New Joint Action Plan Announced for Improving Access to Family Law Services in Ontario
The Law Society of Ontario has just announced its approval-in-principle of a joint action plan that is the culmination of a Family Legal Services Review commissioned last year in conjunction with the Ministry of the Attorney General. The resulting Report makes 21 recommendations that are aimed at improving access to Family Law legal services, most notably by expanding the role of paralegals. Under the joint action plan being considered, the Law Society commits to the following:
- To develop a license for licensed paralegals and others with appropriate training, to allow them to offer some Family Law legal services. The licence will support training on the topics of: legal process; completing Family Law forms, investigating certain financial information, Motions to Change, and uncontested divorces. The Law Society indicates that training will be an intensive and rigorous process, of up to 14 months’ duration, along with testing.
- To “engage in a robust evaluation of the success of the Family Law legal services license for service providers other than lawyers, and to make any adjustments that are in the public interest.”
- To consider allowing lawyer candidates (e. articling students) to be given “experiential training” in the licensing process, including how they may support the delivery of Family Law legal services under appropriate supervision.
- To review the Rules of Professional Conduct governing lawyers and paralegals, to see whether the current rules on the unauthorized practice of law are as clear as possible on the difference between legal information that is legal advice, versus legal information that might be provided by Court staff to unrepresented litigants. The intent is to effect a common-sense change to give Court staff more latitude to help self-represented litigants navigate the Family Law process.
- To continue to support the expanded use of unbundled services and legal coaching, including offering Continuing Legal Education opportunities, as well as tools that address concerns over legal liability.
The Law Society indicates that it will also continue to assess what additional Family Law legal services (including advocacy in and out of the courtroom) should be made available by providers other than lawyers. This again requires consideration of the public interest.
It should be noted as background to this newly-announced initiative, that the Law Society has also ramped up its lobbying efforts, in cooperation with the Bar, to encourage the Federal and Provincial governments to accelerate the implementation of Unified Family Courts to all jurisdiction in Ontario. (Currently, there are only 17 Unified Family Courts are only available to litigants in the province, mostly in the greater Toronto region).
What are your thoughts on this new action plan?