Access to Justice Levies for Lawyers: Putting Our Money Where Our Mouths Are
“I shall seek to ensure access to justice and access to legal services.” Every lawyer recites these words before being called to the Bar in Ontario, as part of the Barristers’ Oath
Every media story about a legal aid shortfall includes a quote from a lawyer, pointing the finger at the government for inadequate funding. However, every time the legal profession points its finger at the state, three fingers are pointing back at the legal profession.
It is true that legal aid is a collective social obligation that the state must support. However, there is no reasonable prospect that the state will meet access to justice needs, especially given voters’ persistent apathy on the topic. It is lawyers who know the problem exists, and lawyers who have the means to solve it.
Noel Semple suggests that our law societies should collect mandatory “access to justice levies” from all licensees, and use the money to fund access to justice for people of modest means. Tight regulation both increases Canadian lawyers’ incomes and makes our services less accessible. An access to justice levy is one way to give back. Any access to justice levy should be progressive, like income tax.
You might not trust your Benchers to decide how best to spend your money on access to justice programs and clinics. A participatory budgeting process would allow licensees to vote, on their Annual Reports, for the most important causes. Those votes would determine how the levy funds would be distributed by the law societies. Alternatively, each licensee could be allowed to choose the recipients of his or her own levy, from a pre-approved list.
Click here to read the full story by Noel Semple.