LETHBRIDGE - One local lawyer has helped initiate a new project that aims to make the justice system more affordable through limited legal services.
For the next 18 months, more than 40 lawyers from Grande Prairie down to Medicine Hat have volunteered to participate in the Alberta Limited Legal Services Project. They'll be able to provide advice, prepare arguments, conduct legal research, attend court on someone's behalf and other short-term services at a much lower cost than the typical full-service retainer.
The program was developed by a group of Alberta lawyers, led by Rob Harvie, lawyer at Lethbridge firm Huckvale LLP, and John-Paul Boyd, family lawyer and executive director of the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family in Calgary.
"I was chair of the [law society of Alberta] access to justice committee, trying to look at how we deliver justice to Albertans, and whether there's ways we could make that better," Harvie said in an interview with Lethbridge News Now.
"We've discovered that our middle class and our lower-middle class really are starting to get priced out of their ability to hire lawyers to go to court for them."
He explained that limited legal services allows self-representing litigants to have full control, but gives them an affordable option to be able to turn to a qualified lawyer when they're unsure of a particular process in their legal matter.
Those seeking legal guidance are encouraged to visit the project's website, and carefully go through the list of approved lawyers in their area. Clients can then contact those lawyers directly to work out specifically what services they require and set a reasonable price.
Harvie noted that the project simply provides "a central contact point." Each lawyer offers their services independently, and will not be limited by project leaders on what kind of services they can offer or how many clients they can take on at one time.
"Our premise is that it might be very good for lawyers. When you're working for smaller amounts individually, but the clients have an easier way to pay it, you're probably having less problems with collecting on outstanding bills.
"I guess we'll find out," Harvie continued. "We're not going in with a preconception. The thought is that it may not be a bad mix for the lawyers and the clients."
All that the Limited Legal Services Project requires is that at the end of each service, the individual lawyer and client complete a short, anonymous survey. It will ask for details on how the experience worked out for each of them, no matter if it was good or bad.
That data will then be collected into a final report, expected to be complete by the end of October 2018, in order to fill gaps in current legal knowledge.
"We want to make better decisions about how to help the justice program. We've been doing a lot of that based on what we think might work, but with very little data... I want to collect data so we can say, 'How did this work? What are statistics showing us? Were most of the clients happy, were they not happy?'" Harvie said.
He believes the group will be able to go to lawyers after all the statistics are compiled to sell the benefits of limited legal services, expand availability for the public and tailor the overall experience for each client.
As for the future of the project, Harvie says he's mostly unsure at this point. He says he hopes the website will eventually be turned over to another group of lawyers who will continue it into the foreseeable future, if the project proves effective for Albertans in need.
Other lawyers interested in the Alberta Limited Legal Services Project can join at any point during the data collection stage, from April 2017 to September 2018.
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