Letters to the Editor
Civil Duty Counsel Program, New Westminster Registry
I would like to introduce the Civil Duty Counsel Program to members of the profession.
This Program is intended to help the Bench and Registry deal with the pre-existing issue of lay litigants who consume inordinate amounts of scarce court resources. It is not intended to replace services previously provided by legal aid or any other organization.
The concept is that civil duty counsel located in the public area of the New Westminster courthouse will provide free legal assistance of up to 30 minutes to persons in need of same. The extent of free assistance will be up to each counsel to decide in accordance with professional obligations and the objects of the Program. Counsel may draft documents, advise on process or strategy, or assist in Chambers. Initial legal assistance will be free but counsel will charge to notarize documents. The notary fee will be negotiated between counsel and client. At present the Registry charges $31 for each notarization. After the initial assistance a private retainer may be negotiated between counsel and client. Each counsel will be responsible for all usual professional liability concerns such as conflicts of interest, record keeping and limitation date requirements.
Since May 24, 2002, James Iida and I have taken turns attending the New Westminster Courthouse for an hour or two on some weekday mornings. More recently, Kelly Russ and Stanley Foo have joined us. Many clients have had family and divorce related issues. Many others have had residential tenancy eviction problems. A few have had questions regarding personal injury, builder’s liens, breaches of contract or estate matters. Some clients are repeat visitors. Not all clients seem to be impecunious; there is an opportunity to meet people who can afford to retain counsel. The Program may be better suited to lawyers who can be sure of their own conflict of interest problems. Lawyers with expertise in family law will do better. Junior counsel will benefit because there is a huge opportunity to learn through frequent contact with registry staff, sheriffs, other lawyers, and to a lesser extent, judges and masters. A lot will depend on the lawyer’s relationship with courthouse staff.
This program is filling a niche, but we could do a better job if we had more lawyers involved. Any counsel interested in participating can contact me or speak to one of the other Civil Duty Counsel.
George H. Richards, 604.588.6844, ext 120
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This letter was published in the April 2003 issue of BarTalk.