Exploring new frontiers for the delivery of legal services in Canada.

Author:Mushtaq, Amer

A brush with the judicial system in any capacity is not a pleasant experience for most people. Even those who succeed in a court usually do not walk out happy. But if you are amongst the increasing number of people who simply cannot afford to pay for legal services, the experience with the judicial system can not only be unpleasant but deflating.

This article explores some of the new ways in which legal profession and emerging technologies are offering new solutions to make dispute resolution more efficient, effective and affordable.

Unbundled Services

Traditionally, a lawyer is retained by a client for the entire length of a legal dispute, so the lawyer looks after each aspect of the legal process--the mundane and the complex. These tasks can include dealing with court offices, opposing counsel, and other parties, looking after scheduling, corresponding with other parties on administrative matters, preparing legal documents, organizing evidence, preparing clients/witnesses and advocating on client's behalf at motions and trial. While the tasks can be appropriately divided between legal assistants, paralegals, law clerks and lawyers within a law firm, the costs for the entire length of a dispute are nevertheless significant. It is estimated that costs of a dispute that concludes with a three-day trial, can easily exceed $50,000.

The legal profession has responded to this problem by offering unbundled services, which essentially means hiring a lawyer for a specific task. A client can consult with a lawyer on a specific legal issue or procedure, or hire the lawyer to prepare specific court documents. In essence, the client runs the file, but brings in the lawyer, as needed. If smartly used, unbundled services can result in significant cost savings for a client without compromising the merits of the case.

While most lawyers remain resistant to the idea, you can still find lawyers who are willing to provide unbundled services. National Self-Represented Litigants Project (NSLRP) has recently launched a database of professionals who provide unbundled services. This can be found at: http://representingyourselfcanada.com/database/

Legal Services for Low-Income People

Every province and territory has some sort of a legal aid organization which provides free legal services for people with low income. These legal aid organizations are usually publicly funded and non-profit. To be eligible for these services, an individual must meet specific financial...

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