Federation of Ontario Law Associations
Alternative Business Structures - the future of legal services

ALTERNATIVE BUSINESS STRUCTURES

Overview

On October 25, 2018, the Law Society launched a call for comment on a draft regulatory framework that would permit lawyers and paralegals to provide legal services through registered, civil society organizations (CSOs), such as charities and not-for-profit organizations — to the clients of those organizations.


Calls for comment were requested (with the deadline for comments on Jan 18, 2019).  FOLA's  submission to the Alternative Business Structures Working Group can be found here.


Presented by the Law Society’s Alternative Business Structures Working Group, the framework is designed as a way of facilitating access to justice for Ontarians – particularly individuals who may have legal issues, but who have traditionally faced barriers to receiving legal advice from a lawyer or paralegal.


The framework was developed following Convocation’s approval in principle of this policy in September 2017. 


If the draft regulatory framework is approved, then the Law Society will update the Lawyer and Paralegal Annual Reports as necessary for the 2019 annual reporting year, and develop practice supports for licensees working in CSOs.


The draft regulatory framework features the following:

  • guidelines for potential civil society registrants, as well as a registration process and annual filing requirement
  • rule changes that highlight the competency requirements for delivering services through CSOs, and prohibiting licensees from charging clients a fee or accepting a referral fee
  • by-law changes outlining the CSO registration and de-registration process, as well as the professional liability insurance requirements and the prohibition of fees being charged for the services as well as referral fees
  • insurance requirements for licensees providing services to third-party clients of CSOs.

See the Alternative Business Structures Working Group’s October report for more information.


Background

The Law Society’s ABS Working Group was formed in September 2012 to explore various possible options available for the delivery of legal services.


FOLA responded to that first discussion paper, which can be downloaded here.


In September 2014, it released a discussion paper and sought input from the professions and other stakeholders.


In September 2015, the ABS Working Group delivered an interim report to Convocation outlining its initial assessment and the directions it will consider further. At that time the Working Group decided not to continue to consider structures involving majority ownership, or control, of traditional law firms by non-licensees. The Working Group focused its study on change with the potential to foster innovation or enhance access to justice.


In September 2017, Convocation approved in principle, a policy recommended by the Working Group to permit lawyers and paralegals to provide legal services through civil society organizations (CSOs), such as charities and not-for-profit organizations.  


In April, 2018, the LSO's Working Group released a Report at Convocation, which you can view here.