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B.C. Law Society benchers decide on pro bono, paralegal issues

Friday, March 08, 2019 @ 9:15 AM | By Ian Burns

Benchers of the Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC) decided against allowing pro bono work to count toward professional development credit and struck a task force to look at what role paralegals can play in addressing unmet legal needs at their most recent meeting.

During the March 1 meeting, benchers approved the lawyer education advisory committee’s recommendation that the law society not recognize pro bono work as eligible for continuing professional development (CPD) credit.

The CPD program has a set of “learning modes” which are eligible for CPD credit, including online interactive programs, local bar and Canadian Bar Association (CBA) section meetings, study groups, teaching, writing and mentoring. In 2017, the committee confirmed the historical view that learning and competency are predominantly enhanced by educational activities that help lawyers keep up with legislation, cases and trends in different practice areas and the development of lawyering skills.

But the committee determined these goals are not adequately advanced through the provision of pro bono work, particularly if lawyers simply perform their regular services, but without pay.  

“Rather, the primary rationale for providing CPD credit for pro bono work is to improve access to justice. As both the lawyer education advisory committee and the access committee agree, improving access to justice is not a sufficient reason to permit the accreditation of pro bono work,” the committee wrote in its submission to benchers. “Moreover, the committee is concerned that accrediting pro bono services creates a risk that pro bono work will displace CPD hours that lawyers would otherwise earn through existing learning modes.”

The committee added that the provision of free legal services to assist the less fortunate is a “foundational ethical principle of lawyering,” but this principle is eroded by creating an incentive to do pro bono work.

“Providing CPD credits for pro bono is a form of non-monetized payment for something that should be provided without compensation,” the committee wrote. “Lawyers should not need the benefit of CPD credits to do what should be done as a matter of course.”

Benchers also approved a resolution to establish a licensed paralegal task force to identify opportunities for the delivery of legal services by paralegals in areas where there is a substantial unmet legal need, and to consider the scope of service that they could provide and what credentials they would require if need is identified.

The idea of licensing alternate legal service providers has been an issue of significant debate both inside and outside the law society. LSBC communications director David Jordan said there is no specific timeline for the new task force to provide its report and that the task force will “take the time to get it right.”

The draft 2018 financial report also revealed the law society to be in the black, with total general fund revenue at $26 million, five per cent more than predicted in the 2018 budget, with higher than expected revenue being earned in member fees, insurance recoveries and interest income. General fund operating expenses were $24.1 million.

Revenues for the Lawyers Insurance Fund (LIF) were $15.7 million, or $421,000 over budget, with more insured members than projected. Operating expenses were $5.9 million, or $1.4 million below budget, with expense savings a result of staff vacancies, reduced external counsel fees and lower insurance and administrative expenses.

The next bencher meeting is scheduled for April 5.