Chief Justice of Canada Beverly McLachlin has identified access to justice as the major issue facing the Canadians legal system. Andrew Pilliar, a PhD candidate at the Peter A. Allard School of Law, is hoping to contribute to a solution to this crisis through his doctoral research entitled “Understanding the Market for Personal Legal Services to Improve Access to Civil Justice in Canada”.
In a 2013 TEDx talk, Pilliar described access to justice as ensuring that people are “able to use the legal system to plan [their] life and to resolve disputes”. Pilliar’s doctoral research is taking a unique approach to access to justice issues by examining the ‘demand and supply’ sides of the access problem. This dual approach will allow Pilliar to better understand how people respond to legal problems in their lives (the demand for access) and also how lawyers could better address everyday legal problems (the supply of access). Much of the access to justice discussion has focused on what happens after someone decides to find a lawyer or take a matter to court. In Pilliar’s words, “if we don’t know what factors keep people from addressing a legal problem, we are in a poor position to try to improve the system”.
Pilliar has received numerous commendations for his research to date: a SSHRC Canada Graduate Scholarship; a UBC Four-Year Doctoral Scholarship; and most recently, funding from UBC’s new Public Scholars Initiative. He has also been named an Action Canada Fellow in recognition of his leadership in access to justice. The support of these awards have allowed Pilliar to pursue his PhD and to share his research with a broad audience that he hopes will expand beyond academia and the legal community.
When asked about the role that legal education has to play in promoting access to justice in Canada, Pilliar points out that “the importance of access to justice is literally built into Allard Hall”. He is referring to a quote from Chief Justice McLachlin which is embedded in the walkway leading to Allard Hall: “The most advanced justice system in the world is a failure if it does not provide justice to the people it is meant to serve.” Law school is the ideal time to start talking about access to justice issues since, Pilliar notes, students “have time to learn about the problem and to reimagine [their] careers to help address those problems. Once you’re in practice, it’s harder to make changes.”
For law students who are interested in promoting access to justice as they enter the legal profession, Pilliar offers this advice “Learn more about it. Imagine solutions. And be bold in both imagining solutions and in pursuing them.”