Promoting the Practice of Law in Rural, Regional & Remote Communities.

AuthorLambert, Tonya
PositionSpecial Report Rural Law

In 2012, 14% of lawyers in B.C. practiced outside of Vancouver, Victoria and Westminster. In 2014, 11% of lawyers in Alberta practiced outside of Calgary and Edmonton. In 2018, 22% of lawyers in Saskatchewan practiced outside of Saskatoon and Regina. Note: Most lawyers practicing outside of these large cities are located in smaller urban centres. The Problem

There is an access to justice crisis developing in rural, remote and regional communities across the country. Lawyers in small towns are growing older and nearing retirement. Newer lawyers are not stepping in to fill their shoes, preferring to stay in larger cities. Rural firms are either shutting down or being bought by larger firms in regional centres, which then send a lawyer to the town for a few days every month. Combine this with the closing of many small courthouses and cutbacks to legal aid funding and you have an impending access to justice crisis.

The increasing shortage of lawyers in rural regions has a far-reaching effect on communities in these areas. Lawyers often fill leadership roles within their communities, serving on boards and political councils. They are members of the Chamber of Commerce and play a key role in businesses at every stage of their development. Community-minded, lawyers volunteer in a variety of organizations, from community leagues to sports teams to local non-profits and many more. In short, lawyers occupy many key roles within a community, and their absence is felt keenly far beyond the walls of any courtroom.

The Obstacles

Nationally, only 8.7% of new lawyers (having less than five years of experience) practice in a rural setting. A survey of the Law Society of British Columbia found that most students would leave the province before considering practicing in a rural area. Such a sentiment is not unique to students in B.C. The overwhelming preference of most law students to work in an urban centre is found across the country. Why is this?

  1. Most law students are from urban centres and have little experience with rural life. Their friends and family live in the city and, unsurprisingly many students wish to remain close to them. The same is true for their partners, who may find it difficult to find work in a smaller centre.

  2. Big city firms dominate recruitment in law school. Students are hit early on with the message that the goal is to work in one of these firms with their money and prestige, and that ending up anywhere else somehow makes you a...

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