Some of the top judges in Canada are beginning to speak out about a problem that many family law clients have been concerned about for years: access to legal services.
In a recent online video, BC Court of Appeal Chief Justice Robert Bauman publicly acknowledged that a majority of Canadians cannot afford legal representation on any serious issue. In fact, up to 80% of individuals involved in family law cases appear in court without a lawyer – an astronomical increase from a generation ago.
From the judiciary’s perspective, the problem with “self-representation” is that it slows down the system because so-called lay litigants (non-lawyers) come to court unprepared and unfamiliar with its processes. Judges must then take the time to educate “self reps” about their rights and responsibilities and make sense of their story before being able to make an informed and appropriate decision about their case.
In an effort to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the justice system, Mr. Justice Bauman (along with the Chief Justice of Nova Scotia and Associate Chief Justice of Ontario) is urging lawyers to think outside the box and consider delivering legal services in a different way – by “unbundling” them.
Rather than being hired to conduct every aspect of a client’s file – in essence, to provide a “bundle” of legal services – the lawyer would agree to provide certain discrete unbundled services at a fixed fee. Examples of such services include reviewing court documents before they are filed or helping the client prepare for a settlement conference or trial. Clients would still be responsible for filing the documents and representing themselves in court.
Mindful of the concerns raised by the justices, Leisha Murphy and I viewed this unbundling option as an important aspect of Connect Family Law’s service model and we have been offering it to our clients since we opened our doors a year ago.
In fact, we’ve gone even further to promote access and affordability. We provide clients with options for not only how services are provided, but also by whom. Not every task during the life of a legal file needs to be completed by a lawyer. A paralegal is trained and qualified to conduct many aspects of a family law matter (under a lawyer’s supervision), from drafting letters to preparing documents, and often at a much lower hourly rate than a lawyer charges. (There are of course some tasks that paralegals are not permitted to perform, namely, provide legal advice, represent clients in court, or devise the overall strategy of a case.)
At Connect, paralegal Sylvie Walker is a crucial part of our legal team. Within the limits described above, Sylvie is available to provide as much or as little legal support to our clients as they choose. And that’s the key word: choose. We offer our clients the choice of having a lawyer perform every aspect of their file, or integrating Sylvie into the process. Ultimately, it’s about finding that right fit for each of our clients.
To read more about Justice Bauman’s ideas for the future of legal services and to watch his video, click here.
To learn more about Connect’s service options, click here.