Next weeks Law Society Annual General meeting is shaping up to be the sort of brawl usually reserved for MMA competitions.
In the first bout, the Benchers of the Society will square off against the family law bar, who are expected to turn out in force in order to defeat a motion proposed unanimously by the Benchers to authorize the licencing of ‘near-lawyers’ to practice family law.
The Benchers, for some reason, have decided that it would be a good thing to allow “non-lawyer legal service providers” to compete with real lawyers in the provision of family law services, including representing clients in court. Their rationale appears to be that the cost of legal services has become too great for many litigants to afford, with the result that family courts are being overrun with unrepresented parties, putting extreme strain on a system that is designed to operate smoothly only when oiled by the participation of lawyers.
Ironically, one of (although by no means the only) reasons that legal services cost so much is because of the cost of complying with all of the various regulations imposed upon us of by the Law Society. So now the same Society wants to license some low-cost competition. Does this mean that our new ‘no-frills’ competitors will be exempted from those requirements? Otherwise how can they be expected to be able to provide services more economically?
The family law bar isn’t about to take this lying down and you can expect that there will be some spirited debate at the law society’s AGM. They are rightly incensed at the notion that the work of a highly skilled family lawyer can be replicated by a paralegal with a fraction of a real lawyers training and education.
The fundamental issue of course is simply the high cost of legal services, and two lawyers proposal to address those high costs will form the subject of the second bout on the fight card for the AGM. In this contest lawyers Kevin McCullough and Danielle Young are squaring off against the Benchers, with their resolution which seeks to require all practicing lawyers to provide a certain number of Pro-Bono (i.e. no charge) legal services per year, either by taking on, for free, a criminal trial, a family law proceeding, a child protection act hearing or a refugee case.
One can expect some raucous debate on this resolution as well! I for one intend to make it known that I have for years kept an “involuntary pro bono list” in my office. it’s called my accounts receivable list and reflects with some precision the value of the work which I have done for clients for which I have never been paid.
It’s hard to imagine how forcing us to work for free on an occasional basis is going to solve the overall problem of soaring legal costs. My overhead costs will continue to take over unabated while I am away providing a random indigent client with representation, and unfortunately those costs will have to be spread over my remaining paying clients.
Then too, one wonders whether our new no-frills competitors will also be forced to work for free?
The AGM is going to be a bit of a cage fight- I only wish they sold beer, like at real MMA event.