To The Access to Justice Committee:
I am answering the call to comment for the Family Legal Services Provider Licence Consultation. I have been in the family law industry for five years, and have useful information on the best ways to approach improving access to family law services.
I understand the LSO is considering allowing an Ontario paralegal to do lots of family law work.
At its core, access to justice involves two groups of people. The person who needs legal services (“the client”) and the person providing legal services (“the lawyer.”)
Right now around 60% of people going through the family law system in Ontario do not have a lawyer.
There are two reasons for the lawyer/client disconnect
- The client doesn’t want to work with a lawyer, or cannot find the right lawyer.
- The lawyer doesn’t want to work with the client.
The main reasons for the first situation are that the lawyer doesn’t get back to the potential client in time. Some lawyers wait five days to respond to inquiries.
The other reason is that they don’t believe the lawyer offers enough value for the costs. This is normally not because the client doesn’t have money, but because they have no idea how much it would cost.
The reason for the second situation is that the lawyer does a poor job at sales, and just gets straight to discussing how much of a retainer they want.
The lawyer listens to the client for five minutes and then says “right, I will need a $5000 retainer.” This lack of understanding and care turns the client off.
The problem with lawyers is outlined below.
Becoming A Lawyer In Ontario
To become a lawyer, most people graduate with a bachelor’s degree, which takes four years. Then you must pass the LSAT, which might take six months. Then you go to law school for three years. Then you article for a year. And finally, you study for the bar exam for six months. In total, someone might spend around eight years of their life becoming a lawyer.
Let’s say they could have earned $60,000 in a job out of high school. In these eight years, they would have earned pre-tax $480,000. Add a cost of $70,000 for law school tuition, and they have given up $550,000 to become a lawyer.
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Becoming A Paralegal In Ontario
To become a paralegal in Ontario, you must complete an Accredited Paralegal Education Program. I picked the first approved program on the LSO list, which was the Academy of Learning in Toronto. The program takes 49 Weeks, and the tuition is around $12,100.
To make the math smooth, let’s say after completing the 49 weeks of Paralegal training, someone takes three weeks off. Therefore, if they could have earned pre-tax $60,000 during this year, plus the tuition, it would have an opportunity cost of $72,100.
Does It Make Sense To Go To Law School?
The cost to become a lawyer is around $550,000, and the cost to become a paralegal is around $72,100.
Why would anyone want to become a lawyer?
One could say that becoming a lawyer is certainly more prestigious than being a paralegal. But does it make financial sense?
If it was true that lawyers were earning much more than paralegals, then it may still be worth it to go to law school.
However, as was the case before COVID-19, and is certainly the case during COVID-19, many lawyers are not earning enough to keep the lights on. Lawyers are financially struggling.
Paralegals are taking more market share away from lawyers. The Family Law Active Plan outlines that the solution to access to justice is to make things harder for lawyers.
In essence, the Law Society and the Ministry of the Attorney General may approve a license for paralegals to offer family law services. The paralegals could deal with financial disclosures, motions, uncontested divorces, and “possibly other areas.”
Financial disclosure and uncontested divorces make up a significant market share for divorce lawyers. Motions and “possibly other areas” contribute to keeping the lights on at family law firms.
I have nothing against paralegals. I know many paralegals that are more knowledgable than lawyers. What I do take offence to is the belief of the LSO that the reason for the access to justice problem is that there are not enough family law experts in Ontario.
There are plenty of lawyers that are capable of providing legal advice and services. The problem is that clients and lawyers are not connecting properly.
The Solution For The Legal Industry
I have outlined my three solutions below. All three of them might make The Access to Justice Committee uncomfortable. However, given my five years of pushing innovative in the family law market in Ontario, I know they would work.
- Allowing for online law firms
- Relaxing some LSO rules
- Sales Training For Lawyers
Allow For Online Law Firms
Lawyers should be able to work from home and provide services without ever meeting their clients. This would save the lawyers money on rent, and then can pass on the savings to clients.
Also, if a client lives in a remote area three hours outside Toronto, it will be very difficult for them to get legal representation. If they are lucky enough to have a family lawyer in their town, the quality and experience of the lawyer might be subpar.
My experience is that small-town lawyers are often not very skilled and lack customer service sense. This of course is not always the case.
An online law firm could service clients anywhere in Ontario. From Toronto to the smallest town of only 200 people.
There are some encouraging statistics for online law firms that came out of the 2019 Clio Legal Trends Report. The report said that 68% of clients want to meet with their lawyers outside of office hours.
Online law firms can easily operate during long hours, as there could be lawyers on the East coast of Canada and on the west coast of Canada.
This means that while keeping “9-5 pm” office hours, the law firm can operate an additional 4.5 hours because that is the number of time zones in Canada.
According to the legal trend report 59% of people that need a lawyer, want their law firm to be available outside of the normal 9-5 pm.
Relaxing some LSO rules
Lawyers must be allowed to verify ID for people in remote cities over video conferencing. A client can send a copy of their ID, and then the lawyer can check the picture of the ID during the video conference. The client would hold up their ID to their face.
The LSO should also allow for non-lawyer ownership of law firms. Law firms will need the ability to attract investment so that they can invest in technology, customer service, and better business models. This system has worked well in the United Kingdom.
Law firms in the UK like Co-Op have operated extremely successfully as online law firms. They could only afford to do this by raising capital.
Sales Training For Lawyers and Ontario Paralegals
Many lawyers are terrible at sales and customer service. They assumed when they went to law school that they would never need to promote their services. They are the lawyer who knows about legal issues, and how to solve them.
The LSO should develop sales training for lawyers.
The lawyer needs to think about how to provide better customer service and track client feedback, which is key. If the average client has a better experience with lawyers, there will be fewer LSO complaints.
Further, more people will recommend hiring a lawyer for their friends.
Conclusion About Ontario Paralegals
I am genuinely concerned about the future of the legal market in Canada. I will continue pushing innovation. If the legal industry doesn’t want to change, I will force it to change.
While my approach is aggressive, I believe it is necessary. 60% of people going through the system without representation means something is seriously broken.
This is similar to 60% of people not going to a hospital because they don’t want to deal with doctors. Can you imagine if 60% of people operated on themselves?
I am happy to work with the Law Society and the Ministry of the Attorney General in any capacity to resolve the family law access to justice issues in Ontario.
You can learn more about ClearWay Law by seeing our videos.
If you have comments about what it’s like to be an Ontario paralegal or lawyer, feel free to reach out to the author on Linkedin.
Author: Alistair Vigier is the CEO of ClearWay Law
Comments I Have Received About The Ontario Paralegal Program
“Interesting take, but I’m not sure if I agree with the underlying premise as strongly as you do that this isn’t a supply issue.
There is a product-market fit-gap in legal, and I think there is an underlying fallacy when we think about the A2J gap as something we can volunteer our way across.
I don’t necessarily think that paralegals replacing lawyers is a comprehensive solution either.
I think legal professionals need to think about online service delivery (similar to eCommerce), build better client experiences and offer a broader suite of services to clients at more flexible price points and cost structures.
This will unlock new market segments and paralegals could serve some of those segments at a price point that works.
I think what you are saying is that lawyer utilization out there is low and there are tons of “whitespace” in their capacity that needs to be put to work before shifting work to paralegals. On that we agree – the issue to me is can they change their client offerings to capture the demand that is out there.
I think that’s exactly what you sought to do with Clearway and where your model started.”