FAMILY LAW PROJECT Jean McBean, Q.C.—Senior Counsel
The Legal Aid Society of Alberta commenced a pilot project to deliver services in family law through salaried staff lawyers operating out of two cities, one in Edmonton and the other in Calgary. With the commencement of the pilot project, except in the case of conflict of interest or previous long-standing relationships with other lawyers, the referral for legal aid clients in the cities of Edmonton and Calgary is to the Family Law Office (FLO).
In situations where there is a conflict of interest, Edmonton and Calgary clients who have been granted legal aid certificates are referred to a lawyer in the private bar. Clients who are resident outside of Edmonton and Calgary will continue to be referred to lawyers in the private bar, although the client may request representation through the
The FLO is intended to improve access to justice for family law litigants of limited financial means
. As well as
improving access to justice, the mandate of the Family Law Office is to provide services in a cost-effective manner, and generally to assist clients in a holistic way.
The FLO operates under the supervision of a Senior Counsel who is hired by and reports to the Board of Directors. The Office also employs an Assistant Senior Counsel in each city who are responsible for day to day supervision of the staff lawyers. In addition to legal secretaries, the Office also employs Family Resource Facilitators who work directly with clients on issues such as referrals to outside agencies, helping them understand the importance of compliance with service plans set up by Child Welfare where the client’s child has been apprehended and helping the client comply with such plans where necessary.
Because the FLO is a pilot project, its development was also guided by a Steering Committee comprised of representatives of the Board, the Law Society and Alberta Justice. The Steering Committee was also responsible for recruiting the evaluators for the project.
The Edmonton office opened July 1, 2001, followed by the Calgary office on October 1, 2001. The pilot project is anticipated to extend to the end of the 2004/05 fiscal year, and will be evaluated to determine whether the Family Law Office should become a permanent Legal Aid program. Prairie Research Associates Inc. has been retained to conduct the evaluation which is now underway.