August 19, 2022 — As the Legal Aid Board Chair, on behalf of the Board and Legal Aid Alberta, it is our honour to partner with the over 1,200 roster lawyers that deliver essential legal services to tens of thousands of disadvantaged Albertans every year. We value your work and shared commitment to access to justice in Alberta. You are essential to a properly functioning justice system.
We recognize that concerns have been expressed by the roster about the tariff rate and the Government of Alberta’s overall funding package for Legal Aid Alberta. We support a principled debate about how legal aid funding contributes to the administration of justice for all Albertans, including an informed discussion about the adequacy of the tariff rate paid to lawyers. I can also report that at the current tariff rate, Legal Aid Alberta has received sufficient funds to support the delivery of services as outlined in the Governance Agreement.
That said, we do not control the rate of the tariff or the level of the financial eligibility guideline. That is solely in the control of the Ministry of Justice. I can report that the Government of Alberta has been and continues to be a willing partner in discussions with us to modernize the tariff and it is our understanding that the GOA is in the process of reviewing the overall tariff framework.
This discussion should necessarily include an understanding of how the tariff should be modernized to make sense in the current legal environment, and should consider its viability for roster lawyers, the cost to the system as a whole and the impact to all stakeholders including the clients we serve.
While we do not control the tariff rate or our budget allocation, we approached the government in May to seek amendments to modernize the tariff to make it more functional and efficient within our existing budget. The way the tariff works has been largely unchanged for decades which means that we pay lawyers today for the way that the law was practiced in the 1980s. We know that the nature of legal practice has changed drastically and we want to make sure that the tariff compensates our lawyers’ work for the way the law is practiced now so you can do your best work for your clients.
We know that many on the roster believe that this is an incomplete solution and that this review must include an examination of the hourly rate. This is not within our control, but we believe that our modernization work will provide a direct benefit to the roster and a foundation with necessary information for the broader tariff review that the Minister’s office is currently undertaking, which we are in favour of. In terms of appropriate process, I would expect that the tariff structure modernization would be completed before a tariff rate review could be finalized.
It is appropriate that we make sure that the tariff allocates our budget to the work that our lawyers do that is substantive rather than administrative. We want to assess our tariff block items by the amount of work that the item actually requires. For example, in the criminal context we currently pay our lawyers $46.20 for a docket adjournment that may well be done through a website in seconds but pay $92.40 for a Provincial Court Bail Hearing that may take hours to prepare.
We also want to reduce the friction and administrative burdens of providing legal services through the roster so that you are not spending time dealing with policies and processes that do not serve you, the client or LAA. When you run a trial, the block fee for each half day of trial time only effectively compensates you for your actual time in court. This means that in order to be paid for predictable and necessary preparation work, you must request discretionary extra hours. It’s obvious that to serve your client properly at trial, you need adequate preparation time but under the current tariff that’s not built in for all cases. The bottom line is that the tariff must make sense and meet your needs in properly serving clients.
To be clear, this work will not reduce our commitment or level of funding to our roster work. Rather, it will allocate these funds in a way that we hope will make much more sense to you.
In cooperation with our stakeholders over this past six years we have taken great strides to advance Legal Aid Alberta. We recognize that you have been a valuable and essential part of this progress. We will continue to work to earn your support and trust as we go forward.
The success of this work depends on feedback and consultation with the roster. We are committed to working with you and look forward to rolling out a consultation schedule in the next few weeks.
Legal Aid Alberta