Legal Coaching as an Alternative


Legal Coaching as an Alternative

Prior to the pandemic, courtrooms were filling up with self-represented litigants trying to navigate the complexities of our legal system — and although many court operations have been suspended or delayed in 2020-21, this has not slowed requests I hear every week from middle-class people who are looking for support and assistance. They ask for legal services that are both affordable and convenient, and they express frustration in the fact that they can no longer afford full-service representation from a traditional law firm.

Consider Beth*, an education assistant served with an application to have her son begin Grade 1 at a French immersion school — one she knew would not be a good fit for him; she had hired a lawyer for her earlier custody application, and had lost. She had no means to pay thousands to retain a lawyer to represent her again. Or Susan*, a woman who recently lost her mother, and was struggling to decipher all the steps required of an Executor as she attempted to carry out the estate administration. She felt overwhelmed by grief, the complexities of probate applications and felt undue pressure from her siblings to stray from terms of the will.

These people are not alone: every year, tens of thousands of litigants attempt to represent themselves in court all across Canada; many more will write their own contracts and do other legal work as they are not financially able to hire full-service lawyers. People like this all have one thing in common — they are seeking legal guidance and support from qualified legal professionals. Enter the Legal Coach.

Legal coaching is a type of limited scope legal service where the coach supports the client in dealing with their own legal matter. It is an ongoing relationship where the coach and client work together as a team, setting out realistic goals to which the client is held accountable. It can be completed in regular weekly sessions for a fixed monthly rate, adding certainty for the client who is able to budget for these services. Legal coaching has been recommended in reports by various organizations researching the issue of access to justice, creating an opportunity to support those legal professionals who want to do law differently.

Through legal coaching, Beth had the help she needed to prepare her affidavit, serve it and present a strong argument in court, all for only $650 in coaching fees; she said she felt empowered by the process. Susan was able to complete and file the correct probate documents for her mother’s estate and obtained probate to distribute most of the estate within a few short months, while managing the expectations of the beneficiaries — all with the help of a legal coach. These services were provided virtually through the use of videoconferencing — all for a fraction of the cost of full-service representation.

So many lawyers are looking for new and innovative ways to provide legal services, using technology to reduce overhead costs. They want to transition to a practice that is more sustainable, while juggling parenting responsibilities or easing into retirement. Personal injury lawyers are exploring new ways to assist people when Enhanced Care legislation takes effect in British Columbia in 2021. Legal coaching is an alternative that provides these opportunities, and so much more. In 2020, the Benchers of the BC Law Society approved a plan in principle for alternative legal service providers — within the context of a regulatory sandbox that will open the door to innovative services such as legal coaching. This approach may finally make it possible to close the gap and make legal services more affordable.