Canadian Lawyer magazine recently published two stories about the Aspire Legal Access Initiative (“Aspire”), an initiative which I think represents the type of innovation A2JBC encourages. Aspire seeks to empower self-represented clients dealing with family law matters to navigate the system themselves with the support of affordable, limited scope services.
Aspire’s model relies primarily on articling students and newly called lawyers from the University of Calgary, supervised by a practicing lawyer, and supported by volunteer counsel who have experience in family law. Rise Women’s Legal Centre has adopted a similar model here in British Columbia to provide legal services primarily through law students in partnership with the Peter A. Allard School of Law at UBC and West Coast LEAF.
Aspire, which is supported by the University of Calgary Faculty of Law, was set up as a not-for-profit law firm. The not-for-profit structure raised various regulatory issues, and the Law Society of Alberta has been collaborating with Aspire to help it structure its services to ensure that they are being provided in compliance with relevant rules.
What I think is most important about Aspire’s initiative is its focus on financial self-sustainability. While the extraordinary efforts of pro bono, or volunteer, legal counsel and legal aid have played an important role in helping to improve access to justice, increased pro bono services and increased legal aid cannot, on their own, solve the access problem. We need to ensure that providing affordable legal services is a viable business model in order to make real progress.
Aspire’s project also follows the Access to Justice BC approach embodied in our Framework for Action by adopting a more collaborative, user-centered perspective and by collecting and providing data.
Consider whether you might follow in Aspire’s footsteps by undertaking your own legal innovation, and don’t forget to share your innovation stories with us.