Need a lawyer but don't qualify for legal aid? Project aims to slash fees for Albertans

Middle-income Albertans who can't afford legal services but don't qualify for aid may now have an alternative — a few dozen lawyers in the province have teamed up to offer limited help at a cheaper cost.

Alberta Limited Legal Services Project will see lawyers handle only parts of legal matters to keep costs down

John-Paul Boyd, one of the organizers behind the Alberta Limited Legal Services Project, says many many middle-income earners cannot afford legal services as they are traditionally offered. (Allison Dempster/CBC)

A new program has been launched to help Albertans who find themselves caught in an income gap when it comes to legal services — they can't afford lawyers' fees, but don't qualify for legal aid.  

The Alberta Limited Legal Services Project involves 43 lawyers from around the province who have agreed to offer what are known as "unbundled" services for the next 18 months.

They will give their clients the option of hiring them to handle part of a legal matter, instead of an entire case. 

"Most Canadians, including middle-income earners, are unable to afford a lawyer and partly the reason for this comes from the assumption that a lawyer is going to handle your case from beginning to end and that can get quite expensive," said John-Paul Boyd, one of the organizers of the project and a researcher with the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family. 

Some legal service better than none

The limited legal services could include help with preparing documents, or representation at a court appearance. 

The aim is to help people navigate the court system.

"Right now, in family law courts across Canada, the number of people who are representing themselves is as high as 80 per cent. And so it is our expectation that providing them with some legal services is better than providing them with none," said Boyd. 

A limited legal service arrangement won't be possible in every situation, he said.

"The lawyers on our roster are going to have training in providing limited services and will spend lots of time with the client to make sure that a limited scope approach is what's appropriate," said Boyd.

'Definitely a huge need'

Clients and lawyers involved in the program will be surveyed to assess how well it worked, but the concept is already being welcomed in some legal circles. 

"I think it's a really valuable addition to the network of legal services that already exist. There is definitely a huge need for appropriate, affordable legal services," said Gabriel Chen, assistant managing counsel at Calgary Legal Guidance, which provides legal support to low income Calgarians.

"It helps sort of fill in the gaps that we have between the services that are out there," he said.

"My hope is that when the project is over that the lawyers who are on our roster will continue to provide those services."

The project is funded by the Law Foundation of Ontario.