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Why evolution of legal model desperately needed | Shama Rafiq

Wednesday, January 15, 2020 @ 10:45 AM | By Shama Rafiq

Shama Rafiq %>
Shama Rafiq
When it comes to access to justice, we often forget that the old law firm structures are a major deterrence to ensuring that anyone and everyone has a fair chance to having their day in court.

Billable hours are the amount of time an employee spent on a client’s file, where the client is only charged for time spent on the actual file. Firm policies generally vary on how relevant time is calculated. That being said, clients are generally paying premiums under this regime.

There are various types of clients so it’s natural that they have different needs, even when it comes to paying legal fees. Some like the billable structure while others prefer a flat fee. But what about those potential clients who don’t even make it past the initial consultation?

Traditional law firms don’t alter their services for those who are not able to afford the full package. In many family law cases there is a market for those who can only afford to pay a certain amount and for partial services, for example a potential client may walk in with only $5,000 to spare and may need assistance with a factum. In this case, most law firms would not be willing to go beyond the consultation and the potential client would go to court ill-prepared resulting in a failed legal system.

Access to justice is an elementary principle of the rule of law where individuals are able to exercise their rights and have their voices heard. It is more than just having your day in court, it is about having adequate legal representation.

According to the United Nations, one of the major difficulties in accessing justice is the cost of legal advice and representation.

For individuals who are unable to afford full legal services, this can be very disadvantageous for them. Not only does this slow down the courts as individuals have to be guided on the rules and how to proceed by both judges and court personnel, but it is costly for taxpayers.

Recently, there have been many cuts to the legal aid program resulting in already overburdened duty counsel to now also represent those accused who need legal aid. Although the reasoning behind these cuts is to save taxpayers money, the reality is that under this new regime, those accused will not have their day in court in a timely manner and many may choose to plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit to avoid having to represent themselves in a trial.

The argument made by former Ontario Attorney General Caroline Mulroney’s press secretary Jesse Robichaud that if there is duty counsel present at bail hearings then having another legal aid lawyer come in for a minimal time is pointless, shows how little the government cares about low income earners.

Walk into any criminal courtroom in Toronto and one can see how flooded they are.

The challenge we face today is twofold. We have a government that will not support its low-income earners and law firms that choose to turn a blind eye to low-income earners. As a general rule, lawyers do not want to deal with a client if they will not be paid, but if they do not open up to other ways where they can still provide services, they will lose out on an already big rising market.

That’s why we in the legal profession must evolve as people’s needs are now different. The goal is simple: to help people in need by changing the old law firm structure so that there is access to justice for everyone. It’s a simple idea that will take its time to cultivate because the reality is that as law firms strive to make changes, the legal system is slow at adapting to these changes.

Shama Rafiq is the founder and associate at The Legal Eye. With two master of law degrees and over six years of experience in the banking industry, Rafiq is a fierce advocate for access to justice. Rafiq’s LinkedIn profile can be found here.

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