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Loosening rules for non-lawyers needed for north Saskatchewan: law society president

Wednesday, January 15, 2020 @ 12:26 PM | By Terry Davidson

Relaxing the rules around tasks paralegals and other non-lawyer service providers are barred from performing could be a key to greater access to justice in northern Saskatchewan, says the new president of that province’s law society.

Gerald Tegart, who became the Law Society of Saskatchewan’s new president on Jan. 1, comes from a place of experience: He was co-chair of a team formed in 2017 by the law society and Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Justice that went on to recommend expanding the list of exceptions to the unauthorized practice of law.

Gerald Tegart, President of the Law Society of Saskatchewan

As of the new year, a number of those recommendations had been implemented via amendments to the province’s Legal Profession Act, 1990. Others, such as the call to grant limited licences to certain non-lawyer legal service providers on a case-by-case basis, have yet to happen. According to law society director of legal resources, outreach and access Melanie Hodges Neufeld, a limited licensing program will roll out in the next 18 to 24 months.

In an interview with The Lawyer’s Daily, Tegart, 68, talked of how this could help to tackle the lack of access to justice in Saskatchewan’s remote north, which remains home to many Indigenous communities.

He said it is a “a huge challenge for the provincial and federal governments, to the extent that they are involved with service delivery in those communities,” but that the law society has a role to play.

“More than anything, what the law society aims to do is ensure that we aren’t putting up barriers that are inappropriate or unnecessary that make access more difficult,” said Tegart. “One of the initiatives we’ve had on the go, and have had now for several years, is to find ways for people other than lawyers to deliver limited legal services that can be appropriately and safely be delivered by those people. We are working towards finalizing our systems that will allow for that. … We aren’t in the business of actually delivering the services, so it would depend on governments and organizations and individuals who want to do that to take advantage of the removal of any barriers that are particularly applicable to that situation in the north.”

Tegart noted there is no clear definition in Saskatchewan of what a paralegal is, and that the term — “to the limited extent” it is used there — usually refers to legal assistants in firms who work under lawyer supervision. When Hodges Neufeld was asked if amending the rules would apply to someone identifying themselves as a paralegal performing a legal service, she said they could be considered for the limited licensing program if they qualify. A framework around criteria and education requirements has yet to be determined, she said.

With northern Saskatchewan, it is “not so much how you would deliver services, but your capacity to deliver the services,” said Tegart. 

“There are some special needs in the sense that we have greater needs for criminal justice services in northern communities than we have in southern communities, but we certainly have significant family law needs in those communities, as well. Plus, everything else that potentially applies, including things like wills and estates.

“What we are trying to do is … [create] a system that has sufficient flexibility [so] that if potential service providers want to expand or start providing services in any community — including northern communities — we will have the flexibility to allow them to do that if it is safe and appropriate for them to do that. Whether we’re going to see additional family law services being provided in the north, I can’t say. I don’t see a particular group of individuals or organizations coming forward to do that, to use that example. But what we are doing is making sure that if that capacity is developed, that we will be able to regulate it in an appropriate way that creates the greatest potential for making that viable.”

He said the law society is “talking with the Ministry of Justice about building some things together.”

“At this stage, we’re mostly just creating the concept of testing some of these things out. This is a long-term project. It began in earnest in 2016, and then the task team’s work took place in 2017 and 2018 and we’re still in the process of putting the systems in place and getting to the point where we can actually test these things. I would hope that a year from now, we’re going to have a much better idea of what the potential is. But, again, we need people who are interested in delivering services in order to appropriately test these things.”

Tegart grew up an hour north of Regina. He graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a degree in civil engineering before attending law school.    

He articled for what is now Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Justice and, after being called to the bar in 1977, spent 37 years there as a government lawyer, which included a stint at the end as deputy minister.

Tegart is a past president of the Regina Bar Association and has served on the Canadian Bar Association’s (CBA) Saskatchewan council. He is a one-time member of the CBA’s Task Force on Conflicts of Interest and the Law Foundation of Saskatchewan and was once on the board of the Canadian Centre for Court Technology. 

Tegart joined the Law Society of Saskatchewan in 2014 when he was elected to fill a vacancy left following a judicial appointment.  

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