How lawyers can take pressure off the courts and earn new profits from assisting self-represented litigants.
If you have ever been involved in a lawsuit, whether personal or business, you are probably aware that for most Canadians, the cost of hiring a lawyer can easily exceed the loss or damages under dispute. In family law, it is not unheard of for the legal fees on both sides to equal the joint family assets. That is reality in our courts.
Yet, each year tens of thousands of Canadians hire lawyers in the hope that, after legal fees, they will be able to achieve some level of justice, even if greatly discounted. Harsh reality often awaits many who enter the world of paying lawyers $400 or more per hour – in a system that provides the greatest financial benefit to those lawyers who spend the most time achieving as little as possible.
I can almost hear the screams of indignant outrage from the senior benchers of the Law Society of Upper Canada. Except, I have been at social events and seen lawyers openly joke about exactly that; how the system is set up to benefit the legal profession, not ordinary Canadians. As one of the jokes goes: A good lawyer will take a year to accomplish a motion – an excellent lawyer takes much longer.
As the legal profession pushed the cost of justice out of reach of the majority of ordinary people, many Canadians are reluctantly having to represent themselves in the courts. This tsunami of self-represented litigants is overwhelming the justice system and tests the patience of many judges who find the once professional theatre of the court now more akin to an amateur hour talent show.
So the legal system is searching for solutions to the ‘problem’ of self-represented litigants. We’ve seen some good efforts that need to be continued. Chief Justice Michael MacDonald of Nova Scotia instituted an educational program for self-represented litigants. Across Canada, SRL advocacy groups and a few lawyers run workshops to assist those who are forced to represent themselves.
Unbundled Services: Quick and effective relief for the courts & opposing lawyers
What is missing though, is the willingness of mainstream lawyers and law firms to enter the business of providing legal research, legal document creation and case preparation for self-represented litigants who would happily pay for such assistance, but do not have the funds to hire a ‘full service’ lawyer to represent them in court. (‘Unbundled legal services’)
Many lawyers see the delivery of unbundled services as undermining the profession. Still others fear malpractice claims or professional insurance problems when self-represented litigants turn on the lawyer who assisted them.
Dr. Julie Macfarlane and the National Self-Represented Litigants Project continue to educate lawyers and law students about the SRL crisis – and now focus on untapped business opportunities for lawyers willing to add a new product: Unbundled Services to self-represented persons.
And, in the new NSRLP video (above) we see support for unbundled legal services from some heavy hitters including Chief Justice Robert Bauman of British Columbia, Chief Justice Michael MacDonald of Nova Scotia, and Associate Chief Justice Frank Marrocco of the Superior Court of Ontario.
Kudos to the Justices for their leadership, and to Dr. Macfarlane and the National Self-Represented Litigants Project for their excellent video.