Paralegals in Prince George can now make certain appearances in provincial court on behalf of clients involved in family law cases as part of a two-year pilot program that began this month.
The program should help cash-strapped clients save money.
"It's essentially to try and give the public greater options for accessing more affordable yet competently delivered legal services," B.C. Law Society policy lawyer Doug Munro said Wednesday.
Each lawyer can "designate" two paralegals to provide the service.
The initiative follows on new rules implemented in 2011 that allow articled students to offer many of the services lawyers typically provide and beginning in 2012, paralegals have been able to give legal advice while working under a lawyer's supervision.
Also beginning this year, paralegals are also permitted to give and receive undertakings - essentially a promise to do something, usually in exchange for something else, for example, transferring funds into a trust account in exchange for the release of conditions on a property sale.
Munro said the savings for clients will amount to the difference in hourly rates between using a lawyer and a paralegal. The initiative is also expected to free up more time for lawyers to work on other matters.
"Maybe even other matters for that particular client on the substantive law analysis because the paralegal and the lawyer are still working as part of a team for the client," Munro said. "It's really a method of making a client's money go farther."
If a paralegal is making an appearance in court, the lawyer must remain available by phone if there is a need to make contact.
"This model allows it to be done within the structure of still accessing a lawyer with all the safeguards that come with a regulated and insured profession and the skill and training and oversight of a lawyer working with a trained professional, that being a designated paralegal," Munro said.
A paralegal is a trained professional working under a lawyer and a "designated" paralegal can perform some additional functions.
The pilot program is being conducted in provincial courts throughout the Cariboo and Northeast districts - including Prince George - as well as in Surrey and in supreme courts in Vancouver, New Westminster and Kamloops,
More information can be found at www.lawsociety.bc.ca.