As a follow up to my blog about unbundled legal services in Canada, I thought I’d mention what Canada’s top judge has said about it. Recall from my previous blog that unbundled legal services are legal services offered by lawyers to allow clients to pay less by doing some of the work themselves. An example of this is www.MyOntarioDivorce.com (headed up by family law lawyer Robert Berman), which I previously blogged about.
In an article by Janice Tibbetts entitled “Top judge weighs in on legal fees; Suggests defraying costs as more choose to self-represent” (Ottawa Citizen, 9 February 2009), the author reviewed what Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin had discussed about unbundled legal services in a speech at a Vancouver legal conference. The Chief Justice – a long time advocate of access to justice – was talking about the growing number of Canadians representing themselves in court and what the future prospects of unbundled legal services offered. She acknowledged that unbundled legal services were being used on a larger scale in the U.S. She cautioned, however, that it could lead to problems such as “lawyer’s liability for services tat may be rendered without knowing all the facts”. These things being said, she said it was still worth looking into.
It now appears as though Ontario courts are the pioneers who are here to help self-represented litigants (likely because they see the most immediate benefits through reduced backlog). For example, Pro Bono Law Ontario has set up offices in court houses to help self-represented litigants. Ontario court forms and guides are available online. That being said, the courts can’t do it alone (due to limited resources, red-tape, defined mandate, etc.). It’s now time for the private sector to play catch-up and give some serious thought into providing innovative services to those who can’t afford hundreds of dollars per hour for a lawyer.