A projected shortage of rural lawyers is expected to plague the province, but the Greater Trail region may buck the trend.
According to the B.C. branch of the Canadian Bar Association (CBA), roughly 10,400 lawyers are practicing in British Columbia. Of those, approximately 80 per cent practice in urban counties like Victoria, Vancouver and New Westminster.
That disparity isn’t apparent in the Silver City with a younger contingent of lawyers.
“There are currently 13 lawyers with Trail addresses and the average age is in the mid 40s,” said Michael Jakeman, regional legal careers officer from the Rural Education and Access to Lawyers (REAL) program.
“This is somewhat of a surprise for me and an anomaly for rural areas in the province.”
The average age of lawyers in B.C. is approximately 50-years-old, with a slightly higher average age, 52, in small and rural communities. But some are exceeding the age of 60.
Statistics from the Law Society of B.C. indicated that the average age of lawyers in the Kootenays is 53, Kamloops and the Okanagan see an average age of lawyers that are 50 years-old, while the Cariboo and Prince Rupert are primarily over 50.
Although Jakeman could not explain the reason Trail bucked the provincial trend, REAL program is a new initiative that connects second-year law students with remote law practices for articling placements over the summer. It also assists recent graduates find work in rural areas.
This summer, Greater Trail had two participants from the REAL program —Jack Montpellier and Ryan Sookorukoff.
“However, with that said, the significant challenges that are projected province-wide require continued attention,” Jakeman added.
A push to earn more money and reap the benefits of a bigger, more lucrative practice has ousted young law graduates from rural communities, and funneled them into the Lower Mainland. But that movement up the corporate ladder comes with a price.
The absence of rural lawyers means that many potential clients are being turned away from law firms and slowing down provincial court cases by choosing self-representation.
“Unfortunately self represented people are not a small number of litigants,” said Sharon D. Matthews, former president of the CBA.
“It’s a significant player, certainly in provincial court and a growing significant player in the Supreme Court.”
A recent study from the CBA said up to 27 per cent of unrepresented people received a jail sentence, and 60 per cent of the accused were sentenced. Alternatively 80 per cent of people who had legal representation did not proceed to a trial because eight out of 10 cases were resolved during negotiations.