The access to justice problem is a continuing issue in the legal industry. Lawyers don’t trust clients to pay their bills, and clients don’t trust lawyers to send honest bills. Everyone in the industry seems to talk about the problem, but no one seems to do much about it. What is access to justice? Read on…
Hiring a lawyer seems to be mainly for the rich. Even those that are not rich that can afford a lawyer have a hard time hiring one. A recent report by Clio showed that 64% of law firms do not answer their phones. People that can’t afford lawyers, or don’t want to pay for a lawyer, often end up giving up their legal dispute.
Some People Burn Out In Litigation
We saw a civil lawsuit case recently where the defendants had stolen over a million dollars from investors. In many cases, it was most of the money the investors had. That made hiring a corporate lawyer at $400/hour very challenging to do.
Some in the plaintiff group could afford the lawyer, and they had no problems with the lawsuit. There were also some in the group that self-represented but had experience in litigation. They had no problem dealing with the emotional elements of being threatened by the opposing parties’ lawyers.
But for those without money or those that can’t deal with stress well, they don’t stand a chance of self-representing. When these plaintiffs dropped out of the lawsuit, they let the defendants get away with fraud. What do you think the respondents learned? Further, that they can steal money and it’s no problem. Therefore, it is likely they will harm more people in the future.
We have lawyers on our platform that can help with:
- legal advice and representation
- dispute resolution
- legal information
- understanding the legal system
- criminal legal aid
- civil justice
- access to justice initiatives
- family matters
- understanding the rules of law
- dealing with legal problems
What is Access to Justice?
In most provinces, the maximum amount of money you can make to qualify for legal aid is between $15,000 and $23,000.
For many people, they could afford a lawyer if they truly wanted to. They could borrow money from the bank, from credit cards, and form families. They could sell a car or try something else. But of course, these are risky things to do. They need to be completely convinced that hiring a law firm is worth the risk.
Access To Justice Problem – Legal Aid
Many people apply for legal aid, pro bono lawyers, and even ask law students for help. From what I have heard from people that applied for these programs, almost all of them are rejected.
These programs seem to mostly help First Nations, refugees, and the homeless. The areas of law these clinics help people with seems to be minor crimes and people applying for refugee status (immigration law.) Also, there seems to be little help for those with family law or fraud cases.
Lawyers who provide pro bono services, they can pick who they want to help. There are many female family lawyers who want to only provide free advice to women who are victims of domestic abuse. Again, they have the right to pick who they want to help, as it’s their time.
But what about men? What about people with business law cases who have been defrauded? Further, what about the common family law dispute over child custody?
Legal Coaching From A Lawyer
The amount of money you spend hourly often depends on how long they have been a lawyer. Other factors include which city they live in (Toronto might be more than Victoria BC). Further, some areas of law tend to cost more than others. Corporate lawyers often tend to be far more expensive than family lawyers.
A good option for those that work but can’t afford to spend $20,000 on a litigation lawyer can be self-represented coaching. This means that you can ask the lawyer a question when you need them. You only pay for the lawyer’s time that you use. But it will be the self-represented individual that receives correspondence from the opposing parties’ lawyer.
Conception Of Access
Another option is for those who need to divorce to do a separation agreement instead of starting litigation. Separation agreements often only cost around $2000-3000. That is a lot less than the $20K which might be spent on family law litigation.
Those trying to get legal help in Canada are similar to those in the United States who want universal medical coverage. Both groups do not want to have to pay for professional help.
But keep in mind, there is no universal legal coverage in Canada. For many people, you can get as much legal help as you can afford. Some lawyers like to use the term, “you can get as much justice as you can afford.” This, of course, goes against the principles of our legal system.
Mediation And Arbitration
I hope that more people will use self-represented coaching, mediation, and arbitration. This will speed up the litigation process and reduce taxpayer money spent on those that just want to be proved right in front of the judge at any cost.
In conclusion, it is unlikely that access to justice will be solved any time soon. Clients continue to want to fight it out in court, but they are not prepared to spend over $20,000. Lawyers remain available to assist clients that want to fight but don’t seem willing to embrace legal innovation.
Innovation Sometimes Is Forced
But I want to point out that it‘s very similar to what immigration lawyers have been doing for a long time. Immigration lawyers provide most of their services over the phone, videoconferencing, e-mail.
They do this because there’s no way that a Calgary immigration lawyer can meet a client in China or India that wants to move to Ontario. It‘s impossible that the lawyer can verify the I.D. face to face.
What is Access to Justice?
So, for most immigration lawyers, what they do is they get multiple pieces of I.D. and then verify the person’s face on videoconferencing. This is why immigration lawyers are often quite innovative because they must be. They don’t have the opportunity to be a traditional law firm that’s open 8 am-4 pm.
Law firms that don’t do immigration law must also learn to be more flexible with how they provide legal services. They are currently losing 70% of clients that choose to take care of their own legal issues.
And on the other side, 70% of people are not getting the benefits of a lawyer‘s knowledge. It might not be hard to find a lawyer in Calgary, because you have a lot of family lawyers near you, so you can kind of shop around. But if you’re in a remote place, there might be no family lawyers there.
Clients Cannot Drive Six Hours To See Their Lawyer
There might be one family lawyer that gets conflicted out on the first consultation (a lawyer can only provide consultation to one of the parties, not both.) And so someone might have to drive three hours to meet a family lawyer and then three hours back home.
That’s not realistic to expect of people when they need legal help. Therefore, they often do it themselves again. And it‘s a massive problem. So instead of talking about access to justice and then just identifying it as a problem, I want people to really think about how they can fix it.
Let’s Solve The Access To Justice Problem
I’m sure I’m not the only one that has an answer to the access to justice problem. I encourage all law firms to think about the problem and to put forward their best answer. Don’t just come up with an idea but follow through on the idea.
I can promise you that old school lawyers are going to end up fighting any kind of innovation you do. I’ve experienced it since day one with ClearWay Law.
Every time I talk about doing something innovative or challenging old school law, I get anonymous hate emails. I like getting hate mail because old school law isn’t working anymore, and they see my company as a threat. If they didn’t think it was possible to build an online client-focused law firm, they would just ignore me.
Author: Alistair Vigier is the CEO of ClearWay Law