Understanding the market for personal legal services to improve access to civil justice in Canada


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy - PhD




This dissertation draws upon a mixed-method research design to propose a person-centred conception of access to justice. A person-centred conception of access to justice focuses on how people experience civil justice situations and the difficulties that they have finding help to remedy those situations. This conception of access to justice is quite different from the conception that has been articulated within the Supreme Court of Canada’s caselaw and within most Canadian legal writing about access to justice problems. Building from a person-centred conception of access to justice, I argue that access to justice problems are best understood as a form of privation, rather than as a crisis besetting the legal system. I also elaborate the core content of the person-centred conception by drawing on Martha Fineman’s vulnerability thesis. My reconceptualization of access to justice emerges from: (1) an extensive analysis of the landscape of legal service providers in Canada; (2) my analysis of the experiences related by interview participants (n=9) who had suffered personal justiciable problems; and (3) an analysis of the After the JD dataset, which offers insights into the relationship between lawyers’ organizational settings and the kinds of work that they do. The interview study, while numerically small, illustrates that empirical work on access to justice which begins from existing institutional frameworks risks overlooking significant dimensions of access to justice problems. Based on my research, I propose four tangible steps to improve access to justice in a way that builds from a person-centred conception of access to justice. These steps are: (1) decreasing first-step barriers for justice-seekers by creating holistic, independent advice institutions; (2) reforming how personal legal services are regulated and delivered; (3) developing an interdisciplinary field of access to justice research, modelled on epidemiology; and (4) encouraging widespread political engagement with access to justice as an important social policy issue.

Date Available



Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International




Law, Peter A. Allard School of