There is a bit of a disturbing trend happening in the world of criminal law. First, there is nothing in law that says a person charged with a criminal offence must hire a lawyer; any accused person is free to represent himself, if he chooses to do so.
If an accused person chooses to hire someone to represent him, however, then there are some rules that come into play. For non-criminal matters, such as traffic or bylaw tickets, there are any number of ‘traffic ticket agents’ that can be hired to represent persons in defending against their tickets. These ‘ticket agents’ are often former or retired police officers and there is absolutely no difficulty in hiring these agents to assist with non-criminal matters, such as tickets.
For criminal matters, the law allows non-lawyers to represent persons charged with more minor offences, if the potential penalty is not more than 6 months’ jail. As non-lawyers, these agents presumably have not gone to law school and don’t have law degrees.
The ‘advantage’ to the client is these non-lawyer agents may charge lower fees than a lawyer would charge.
The disadvantages to the client are of greater concern. First, since these agents are not lawyers, not only do they not have law degrees or any professional legal training or certification, but in Alberta, these non-lawyers are not governed by any of the Rules of the Law Society of Alberta. What this means is, if you hire a lawyer and that lawyer is somehow negligent in representing you, you may make a complaint to the Law Society and the Law Society may take disciplinary action against the lawyer – up to the extreme remedy of disbarring lawyers for negligent conduct. If you hire a non-lawyer agent, and this person is negligent in representing you, the Law Society of Alberta has no ability and no power to discipline non-lawyer agents for negligent conduct, leaving the client with potentially the only recourse of spending more money to sue the non-lawyer in civil court.
Another concern is that some of these non-lawyer agents may not even tell the clients that the agent isn’t actually a lawyer. They may have websites and other forms of advertising that look like lawyers’ advertising. This may lead clients into believing they are hiring a criminal defence lawyer, when in fact they are hiring someone who isn’t a lawyer at all.
The bottom line is this, when ‘shopping’ for someone to represent you in a criminal matter, ask yourself if the lower cost of a non-lawyer agent is worth the potential risks involved.
If you have been charged with a criminal offence, you need the assistance of an experienced criminal defence lawyer. Call Eleanor Funk today at 403.262.7722