“Access to justice” has become a catch-phrase in this campaign. It’s an important notion, but the solutions are complex and will only be meaningful if the Law Society takes a step back and looks at what access to justice really means. The high cost of legal services is one part of the discussion, which in turn gives rise to discussions about the cost of being a lawyer or paralegal (including LSO fees, insurance costs, etc.), and also issues such as advertising.
None of that will mean anything without a group of licencees who are (a) competent, (b) healthy, and (c) feel that the Law Society is their partner in achieving these first two goals. The Law Society needs to fulfill its public protection mandate first by looking at its own licencees as individuals which it supports, through affordable, quality education, through active involvement in workplace conditions, and through active encouragement and participation in making legal services accessible to the public.
My priorities will include a thorough review of the licencing and CPD arms of the Law Society, with a view to raising the level of competence among licencees. Another priority will be to see paralegals treated as equal partners in the process of providing accessible legal services to the public – yes, paralegals and lawyers have different backgrounds and skill-sets, but different should not then mean a hierarchical bias against or in favour of one group or the other. Mutual respect needs to be fostered.