Representation for Immigrants and Refugee Claimants

11. Desire for an integrated approach to service delivery

The strong support expressed by many respondents for an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach to representation represents one possible response to this challenge. Lawyers are generally more expensive than other service providers. For a given amount of money, service providers other than lawyers can spend more time with individual clients. It therefore makes sense to utilize other service providers to deliver representation services that do not absolutely require a lawyer. Involvement of non-lawyers also frees up the lawyers to spend more time working on tasks for which their expertise is indispensable. However, it also makes sense to have lawyers working in close co-operation with other service providers. This ensures that the lawyers' input can easily be provided whenever required, and that lawyers can readily assume full responsibility for dealing with the cases that involve complex legal issues.

Because their hourly rates are relatively high, lawyers are under great pressure to complete tasks quickly to keep costs down. When acting for legal aid clients, lawyers are subject to limits on the number of hours for which they can bill on individual cases. This creates a strong incentive for them to maximize income by increasing the number of cases they handle and minimizing the time they spend with individual clients. This pattern of lawyers taking on a large number of cases is particularly noticeable in Quebec, which has a legal aid tariff that is considerably lower than other provinces'. Many of the service providers and claimant respondents specifically alluded to this issue of lawyers running high-volume practices as a problem that is contributing to deterioration in the quality of representation that is being provided.

Seven of eight paralegals who were interviewed for the study work on salary at clinics or at legal aid offices. The other paralegal works for lawyers in private practice on a freelance basis and also works independently as an immigration consultant. All of these respondents felt that they can provide services more cheaply than lawyers can, but they also expressed reservations about the type of work they feel qualified to handle. All of the paralegals interviewed felt that their greatest contribution is made at the case preparation stage where they can take the time required to build a rapport with clients and to help the clients organize their case in a clear and cogent manner. However, the paralegals expressed clear reservations about their capacity to act as counsel at hearings, particularly in cases that require arguments and submissions on legal issues.

Four of the seven paralegals who work in clinic environments operate effectively independently. They all have access to lawyers when needed, but lawyers do not directly supervise their work. The other three work directly under the supervision of clinic lawyers, but report that they are generally allowed wide latitude in their work. The clinic lawyers who work with these paralegals all spoke highly of the quality and the value of the work done by the paralegals. Likewise, lawyers and other respondents who commented on the work done by the other paralegals also provided very positive assessments.

Only three of the lawyers in private practice who were interviewed for this study reported that they use paralegals extensively. Two of these, one in Manitoba and the other in Alberta, indicated that they rarely represent legal aid clients. They primarily represent independent immigrants who are applying for landing as permanent residents in Canada or who are attempting to sponsor relatives for landing as members of the family class, and rarely act for refugee claimants. The third, a lawyer from Ontario who deals mainly with refugee claimants, indicated that he uses freelance paralegals. He bills Legal Aid Ontario for the services provided by these paralegals either as interpreters or as law clerks, depending on the services provided. These lawyers all indicated that they highly value the support provided by paralegals. They noted that this frees them from tasks that require some legal knowledge but do not require high-level legal analysis. This enables the lawyers to concentrate on tasks where they can use their professional skills and training most effectively. The two lawyers, who deal mainly with immigrant clients who are not funded by legal aid, also felt that use of paralegals in their practice enables them to provide services to their clients more economically.

A number of the other lawyers interviewed for this study commented that they do not use paralegals, primarily because they cannot afford them. There is a strong disincentive for lawyers to use paralegals for legal aid work because, under most tariffs, they are not permitted to charge for services provided by non-lawyers, or the amount that can be charged is extremely low. Meanwhile, work done by a junior lawyer, working on a salary comparable to that of a paralegal, can be billed at the rate payable to lawyers, making this clearly a more attractive way for senior lawyers to organize their practice. This situation might be different if tariff rates for work done by paralegals were closer to the rates for work done by lawyers. But that would totally negate the cost advantage of having the work done by paralegals. A comparative analysis of prevailing wage rates for experienced paralegals and junior lawyers would be required to determine whether there is a point at which it is more cost-effective, both for lawyers and for legal aid authorities, to make more extensive use of paralegals under judicare arrangements.

Experience at the RLO in Toronto and the ILRC in Vancouver indicates that paralegals play a vital role in providing quality representation for immigrants and refugee claimants within the staff-based model for service delivery. It may well be more cost-effective under classic judicare arrangements to use junior lawyers rather than paralegals. However, experienced paralegals, simply by reason of their experience and the fact that they are able to spend more time with individual clients, may be better equipped than junior lawyers to provide some of the services required by immigrants and refugee claimants. The challenge is to design a service delivery model that makes it possible to achieve the benefits to be gained from involving paralegals without abandoning the flexibility and the greater scope for choice of counsel that exists under judicare arrangements.

Two pilot projects currently under way in Manitoba and Alberta offer possible models of how this might be accomplished. Under the Manitoba model, described briefly in section 2.4 above, a paralegal employed by the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, an established non-government settlement organization, provides extensive support to the lawyers in private practice who represent refugee claimants on legal aid certificates. In Calgary, a full-time salaried paralegal employed by the Legal Aid Society of Alberta provides support to members of the private bar who are representing refugee claimants under legal aid mandates. This sort of integration of services provided by NGOs, by the legal aid authority itself, and by members of the private bar may constitute a creative, more cost-effective way to provide knowledgeable representation to immigrants and refugee claimants.