The Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) is reviewing opportunities for non-lawyers to participate in the ownership of law firms. To protect quality of service and ensure professional ethics, the legal profession has long resisted non-lawyer ownership, however this has left many individuals, often the most vulnerable, unable to afford representation. It can be argued that the current system of lawyer-only ownership fails to foster a client driven approach or competitive innovation. With other jurisdictions such as the UK and Australia already embracing alternative business structures for legal services, and with increasing market pressure from greater information availability and advancing technology, the LSUC is reviewing the issue. The main goal would be to increase access to legal services through innovative approaches funded with the introduction of third-party capital investment.
The issue has arisen in the bencher’s election in Alberta where the law society is scheduling province-wide consultations with the profession (see the article: Alternative business structures hot topic in Alberta bencher election) and has been active in British Columbia as well.
In Ontario, Justice Annemarie E. Bonkalo has recently completed a review and recommendations for the Attorney General to allow alternative service providers, such as paralegals, greater powers in resolving family law matters (see the report: Family Legal Services Review).
Since September 2015, the LSUC Working Group has scoped out the possibility of majority ownership of law firms by non-lawyers and focused its study on minority ownership by non-licensees, franchise arrangements, ownership by civil society organizations such as charities, and new forms of legal service delivery in areas not currently well served by traditional practices. In fall 2017 Convocation approved in principle a policy to allow lawyers and paralegals to provide legal services through civil society organizations such as charities. While Ontario is moving cautiously, the momentum towards more innovative delivery of legal services to provide greater access to justice seems inevitable.
For more information visit the LSUC site on Alternative Business Structures.