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LSO approves framework for offering legal services through charities

Monday, March 11, 2019 @ 9:35 AM | By Amanda Jerome


In an effort to improve access to justice, the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) has approved a regulatory framework for legal professionals to deliver services through registered civil society organizations (CSOs), such as charities or not-for-profit corporations, which will come into effect April 1.

Convocation passed a motion for policy changes to implement the framework on Feb. 28 after Susan McGrath, chair of the Alternative Business Structures (ABS) working group, presented the final report on the matter.

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Susan McGrath, chair of the ABS working group

McGrath said the framework has been developed to “facilitate access to justice for Ontarians” and had been reviewed by the law society’s Access to Justice Committee, the Professional Regulation Committee and the Paralegal Standing Committee.

The amendments to the lawyer and paralegal professional conduct rules and bylaw changes present the “core of the regulatory framework,” explained McGrath, noting that these changes outline the general eligibility requirements.

“The program applies to civil society organizations, which are defined as: registered charities, not-for-profit corporations incorporated under the laws of Ontario and not-for-profit corporations permitted under the laws of Ontario to operate in Ontario,” she said, adding that the amendments also include “language to highlight particular competency requirements that apply with providing services through civil society organizations, such as acting in the best interest of the client and avoiding conflicts of interest between the client and the civil society organization.”

The rules include “clear prohibitions” against licensees providing services through civil society organizations from charging their clients a fee for their services or accepting referral fees, she stressed.

According to the LSO’s website, legal professionals “employed by CSOs will be able to provide legal services directly to clients of the organization.”

McGrath noted that civil society organizations must register with the LSO in order to be involved and that the law society has the power to deregister a CSO. The licensee practising in a civil society setting must “control the delivery of legal services,” she added.

The bylaw amendments also include “minor housekeeping amendments” to the multidiscipline practices and affiliation sections, she explained, noting that these amendments reduce the default period for “failure to file multidiscipline partnership affiliation reports with the law society from 120 days to 60 days after the deadline.”

McGrath stressed that licensees involved with CSOs must maintain professional liability insurance, so the law society and LawPRO worked together to implement insurance requirements “in a way that can facilitate access to justice.”

“As described in the report, a civil society organization that employs lawyers to provide professional services to the public under this framework can apply to be approved under LawPRO as a designated agency under LawPRO’s designated agency program. This program offers discounted insurance to promote access to justice. If approved, lawyers providing services through the civil society organization may qualify for a discount currently set at 75 per cent of the base rate. For 2019, this would be a discount from $2,950 to under $750. We appreciate LawPRO’s efforts to support this initiative,” she said.

The LSO will also develop practice supports for licensees working in civil society organizations that will be built “based on the needs and experiences of those practising in such settings.”

“The report recommends a program evaluation to be completed within three years from the implementation of the program,” said McGrath, noting that ABS working group recommends that the scope of the program evaluation be developed once the law society has a sense of uptake.

“As the working group notes in the report, concerns about the scope of the program and whether all legal services provided by lawyers and paralegals through civil society organizations must be free are issues that can be considered as part of a program evaluation,” she concluded.

Convocation had approved the policy permitting lawyers and paralegals to provide legal services through CSOs in principle in September 2017 and a consultation on the regulatory framework was held last fall.

The final report on the matter noted that “many submissions supported the adoption of the regulatory framework on the basis that it would enhance access to justice.”

“For example, Family Service Toronto reported that having an embedded ‘trauma-informed lawyer’ on staff would benefit clients and its Violence Against Women team. Similarly, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association expressed its support for the draft regulatory framework to facilitate access to justice and also ‘strongly’ supports the reduced-cost insurance premiums for lawyers working through LawPRO’s Designated Agency program,” the report stated.