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Legal Aid Alberta moving to ‘service location model’ on lawyer choice, travel compensation

Tuesday, January 21, 2020 @ 3:02 PM | By Ian Burns


Legal Aid Alberta (LAA) is asking its roster lawyers to update their online profiles in order to reflect changes it is implementing on choice of counsel for clients and travel compensation for those who take on legal aid certificates.

The lawyer profile is an automated system that Legal Aid Alberta uses to identify what areas of law roster lawyers practise in and what locations they are willing to serve. As part of the new governance agreement that was agreed to with the Alberta government and law society last year, legal aid’s choice of counsel option will be expanding this year. Under the changes, Level 1 and 2 offences will go to a client’s preferred counsel. Level 2.5 offences will retain choice of counsel within Alberta (with travel compensation), and Level 3 offences will retain choice of counsel within Canada (with travel compensation), which is the same system as before.

LAA vice-president of justice services Lori Haughian noted choice of counsel for individuals on legal aid was limited to the service area of the primary court location the roster lawyer would practise in.

“The expansion will move into a service location model, and therefore it will really expand the number of locations in which a client can choose a lawyer from,” she said. “In the past if a client had a legal matter in the city of Edmonton, for example, they were really restricted in their choice of counsel to the city of Edmonton with respect to travel. And so now if you look to a service location, that same individual can have a lawyer in Edmonton or any of the surrounding areas, such as Sherwood Park or Stony Plain, if that is the lawyer that they are comfortable with or have a relationship with.”

LAA will be paying travel compensation within service locations for level 1 and 2 offences, with level 2.5 and 3 offences remaining unchanged. An increased mileage rate of $0.75/km (up from $0.50/km) will be paid from a lawyer’s primary courthouse to the courthouse where services are being provided. If a client wished to have a lawyer outside of their service location a lawyer could take the certificate, but would not be entitled to travel compensation except in what Haughian classified as “exceptional rare circumstances” if LAA is not able to secure a lawyer within the service location due to a variety of variables such as case load or conflict.

The main reason for changes is LAA found situations where individuals were being matched with lawyers they did not have a prior relationship with or confidence in, said Haughian.

“They had a qualified lawyer to represent them, but without that relationship we found we were getting many requests to change their counsel. And that is a very costly model, and it also creates many delays within the court system,” she said. “So, they’d be appointed a lawyer and two months later, they would ask for a change. Then we would really be duplicating some of the services to transition that legal matter to a new lawyer, and then almost be starting over again.”

Haughian said Feb. 3 is the expected launch date for implementation of the choice of counsel and compensation rules. By March 2020, lawyers will also have the ability to transfer certificates with clients’ consent from one lawyer to another within the same firm, as defined by the law society code of conduct, on one occasion only. A second phase of the certificate transfer system, which would allow for transfer of certificates between any lawyers in the province, has been proposed, with implementation depending on the outcomes of the choice of counsel and travel compensation stages, as well as the first phase of the transfer scheme.

“One of the changes that will also be happening through choice of counsel is that we are redesigning how we operate overall to create more efficiencies within the system — we fully expect that, based on choice of counsel, more certificates will be going to the roster,” said Haughian. “That is going to free up some time to allow us to assign more of our internal staff lawyers to perform duty counsel services. There is just so much volume going through the court system on a daily basis, specifically through the criminal docket courts, that we will be able to have flexibility to assign our internal people to more locations.”

In order to qualify for the choice of counsel and travel compensation initiatives, roster lawyers are required to complete a mandatory lawyer profile update by Jan. 27 and send it via e-mail. If Legal Aid Alberta doesn’t receive a profile update by then, the profile will be made unavailable and roster lawyers will not be eligible to receive offers until they respond. If assistance is required, lawyers can contact the Lawyer Portal Team at 1-780-415-0479.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily please contact Ian Burns at Ian.Burns@lexisnexis.ca or call 905-415-5906.