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Convocation approved, in principle, a policy to permit lawyers and paralegals to provide legal services through civil society organizations (CSOs), such as charities and not-for-profit organizations.
The policy is intended to enhance access to justice for individuals who may have legal issues but who have traditionally faced barriers to receiving legal advice from a lawyer or paralegal. Under the new policy, CSOs will be permitted to provide legal services to clients in addition to the services they already provide, such as social and health services. The policy is intended to enable the creation of new inclusive entry points for vulnerable people to find legal services, and integrated service delivery to people facing multiple issues, including legal problems.
Proposed by-law amendments to implement the policy will be drafted and circulated for comment to interested stakeholders prior to being brought to Convocation for approval.
Under the policy, CSOs will register with the Law Society, provided certain conditions are met, including that:
- the licensee has control over the delivery of legal services
- solicitor-client privilege is protected
- the fundamentals of professionalism, such as independence, competence, integrity, confidentiality, candour, avoidance of conflicts of interest, and service to the public good through client relationships and responsibilities to the administration of justice are safeguarded.
A CSO will be de-registered if these requirements are not met. Lawyers and paralegals providing legal services through registered CSOs will continue to be fully regulated by the Law Society.
The following additional principles will be included in the by-law:
- Civil society organizations that are funded by Legal Aid Ontario, including clinics as defined under the Legal Aid Services Act, 1998, will be expressly excluded
- The provision of legal services, legal information and support services through existing permitted arrangements will not be affected
- Legal services provided by registered CSOs are to be provided at no cost to the client by way of service, membership or other fee models
- Registered CSOs may not refer clients to lawyers or paralegals in exchange for donations, payments or other considerations.