Access to Justice:
Access to justice continues to be a critical issue facing our Ontario court system. The backlog of cases is extensive, and judicial resources are being stretched thin. Ongoing efforts are being made by the administrators of the Ontario court system to embrace systems and procedures that will reduce trial time, and streamline the litigation process. The pilot project one judge model is an excellent example of thinking outside the box to try to address a very significant access to justice problem. In 2018 I was pleased to participate in the consultation group chaired by Ontario Court of Appeal Chief Justice Strathy that considered implementing this new and exciting concept in Ontario. The working group that was struck to more carefully consider this issue resulted in the pilot project of the one judge model that launched February 1, 2019. Participation in this pilot project is voluntary, and requires the consent of the regional senior judge overseeing the jurisdiction where the action was brought. The goal of the pilot project is to eliminate interlocutory motions, and move cases more swiftly through the litigation process.
As President of OTLA, I was also involved in government consultations that addressed the need to increase the simplified procedure limits in Ontario, again, with a goal of streamlining litigation and reducing the length of trials and the costs associated with trials. The lack of judicial resources and the volume of litigation being managed by our judges is stretching our system to the point where litigation wait times have before dysfunctional in certain regions. We need to find innovative ways to deliver legal services, dispute resolution mechanisms, and ultimately adjudication of matters in dispute that cost less and are more efficient.
Funding and Support for County Law Associations and Libraries:
The Law Society also needs to continue supporting funding for county law associations and county law libraries. During my 17 years serving on the Executive of the Halton County Law Association, I saw first hand the extent to which small firms and solo practitioners rely upon the resources, research assistance and education provided by local law associations. In addition to valuable and necessary practice support, county law libraries provide a source of community, and networking support for its members. In particular, a vibrant and active law association is an invaluable resource for young or newer members. Ongoing financial assistance from the LSO is critical to the health and longevity of these associations and libraries which are the lifeblood of legal practice, particularly in smaller centers.
Changes to the Solicitors Act:
Through my work as President of OTLA, I had the opportunity to work closely with the Ministry of the Attorney General and the LSO regarding changes to the Solicitors Act. Collaboratively we worked together to support legislative changes that are in the public interest, and increase transparency to the consumer. There is a need for a continued emphasis on strong policy development that will ensure the protection of the public, including greater transparency and simplicity in the retainer agreements signed by lawyers and their clients. Last year before the provincial election the Solicitors Act was amended to remove the criteria that costs awarded be paid to the client directly. This amendment was intended to remove the opportunity for a conflict of interest that could potentially develop between a lawyer and his or her client with respect to the manner in which costs were treated or assessed. But the legislative change has not yet been proclaimed into law, as the Regulations still need to be finalized and passed. There is also a clear need for a simple, straight forward standardized contingency fee agreement that is easy for clients to understand. The Law Society’s Adverising and Fee Arrangements Issues Working Group has been working hard to address these issues, but there is still more work to be done.
No Expansion for Independent Paralegal Practice in Family Law:
Another issue facing our profession is the expansion of the scope of independent paralegal practice in the area of family law. There are many unrepresented litigants in family law matters, and increased involvement of paralegals in family could help improve this situation. However, family law is a challenging area of practice that requires highly qualified, well trained practitioners. Paralegals should not be allowed to act and appear on family law matters unless they are employed by, and under the supervision of a lawyer. There are many family law practitioners right now who successfully employ paralegals, and are thereby able to provide efficient and cost effective service to clients. The scope of independent Paralegal practice should not expand into family law.