Affordable Basic Legal Services Available

Do you have a legal will? Do you need some assistance making changes to a corporate entity? Do you avoid dealing with those things and others because of the high price tag associated with legal assistance? Since early 2022, another option has been available for Saskatchewan residents that can make some of those types of expenses more affordable. The Law Society of Saskatchewan now officially recognizes that paralegals are capable of performing some basic legal tasks as limited-scope service providers. Melanie Markowsky, who grew up in Wakaw and now resides at Poplar Beach, received her letter from the Law Society in April and is pleased to offer her services to people.

Formerly referred to as a “Legal Assistant”, paralegals usually have taken a prescribed series of courses in law and legal processes and provide legal services to the public as allowed by government legislation, or provide paralegal services independently or on contract to or within law firms or other establishments. Paralegals most often work with lawyers and are relied upon to assist lawyers by interviewing clients, witnesses and other related parties, assembling documentary evidence, preparing trial briefs, and arranging for trials, prepare for mediation and judicial dispute resolutions, research records, court files and other legal documents, draft legal correspondence and perform other such office duties. Generally, paralegals need to be under the supervision of a lawyer to prepare wills and perform real estate transactions. In Markowsky’s case, her nearly 20 years of experience as a paralegal have given her a broad range of skills and knowledge that the Saskatchewan Law Society has recognized by granting her the status of a Limited Scope Service Provider. As a limited-scope service provider, Melanie is authorized by the Law Society of Saskatchewan to provide directly to clients the following services:

1. Basic corporate legal services: Incorporations, annual maintenance; indoor management rule for corporations; acting as registered and records office for corporations (including acting as attorney for service for extra-provincial corporations); amendments to corporations involving name changes; business name registrations (sole proprietorships); restorals and restorations; minute book reviews and extra provincial registrations

2. Basic title transfers without trust undertakings, and surviving joint tenant transfers

3. Basic wills, power of attorney and health care directives; and

4. Basic Contracts.

While her Letter of Agreement, limits what she can do alone, Melanie contracts with Law Firms and can enlist lawyer supervision for areas outside of her current approved scope of service. Melanie has also been a Saskatchewan notary public since 2012 and has worked in small to medium national and international law firms for over 20 years, becoming a Certified Corporate Commercial Paralegal in 2005. She is an active member of the Canadian Association of Paralegals.

In 2018, Rt. Hon. Richard Wagner, P.C. Chief Justice of Canada said at a pro bono conference “the first barrier [to access to justice] is obvious, and perhaps the top concern of many people…cost. Legal services are expensive. They are just out of reach of many Canadians.” Even Legal Aid is out of reach for many in our society because the income threshold to qualify for it is lower than what a single individual earns working a full-time minimum wage job. This results in many people attempting to navigate the legal system on their own. For years senior paralegals have been providing services for clients of law firms. They are experienced and have received certification by taking formal education and they can provide their services at a much lower rate than lawyers, thereby providing an affordable way to access legal assistance.

Wagner went on to say that “access to justice” can mean any number of things: the financial ability to get legal assistance when needed, being informed and knowing your right to counsel, having courts that can resolve problems in a timely manner, and knowing what tools and services are available and how to access them. Ultimately, access to justice is about getting good justice for everyone, not just perfect justice for a lucky few. Access to Justice, he said, is a democratic issue, a human rights issue, and it is an economic issue. If only a portion of a society has the financial means to access legal services, then there is an immediate bias in favour of the upper class from the start. With inflation taking a bigger and bigger bite out of people's disposable income, it becomes increasingly difficult for the average person to access legal assistance with things as basic as wills and contracts. The Law Society of Saskatchewan does not set lawyer fees and states there is no standard fee schedule for legal services in our province, meaning that a lawyer at one firm may charge $300/hr for their services while another lawyer at another firm may charge $400/hr for the same service. Generally, paralegals who are unsupervised and self-employed charge hourly or flat rates or lower fees for the services they provide. There are several reasons for this, including: the legal matters they are authorized to deal with are less complex, they have less formal legal education or training, and the monetary value of the issues they handle is lower. The marketplace largely determines what the fees will be in Saskatchewan for both lawyers and independent paralegals.

Markowsky has her office, Markowsky Limited Scope Legal Services Inc. in Prince Albert at 144 - 12th Street East or can be reached by phone at 306-314-5676. She also has an office in her home and clients can meet with her there as well. With inflation causing rising costs in all areas of life, there is another option for those needing basic legal services.

Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wakaw Recorder