In family law there are two categories of people who need service: those who can, or are willing to, afford us and those who can’t, or are unwilling, to pay that much money for services. 

The unable or unwilling make up more than twice as many potential clients than the able and willing. They’re the family law self-reps flooding our courts (when courts are open).

These people may have used a lawyer or mediator at one point and then ran out of money, often leaving unpaid bills. They feel blindsided by ballooning costs and frustrated at being cut loose when they’re out of money. They don’t understand lawyer overheads or our business model and can’t figure out why lawyers aren’t more consumer oriented.

The Family Law Coach (www.thefamilylawcoach.com) is the result of rethinking how we create, deliver, and price family law services for this important group. 

In late BC (before COVID-19), and entirely unrelated to it, The Family Law Coach revised its internet process to create Canada’s first exclusively remote/digital service for family law self-reps. 

Now, any family law self-rep in Ontario can select the service they want, digitally sign an eConsent (retainer), make the initial payment, and complete an Intake Form all from their phone, tablet, or computer. The service itself puts them in contact with an experienced family law lawyer entirely by phone, video conferencing, and email. No office visits restricted to the lawyer’s office hours requiring time off work, childcare arrangements, or lengthy or difficult travel arrangements. No up-front retainer. 

The Family Law Coach motto is “Where affordability, flexibility, and convenience meet family law.” It’s where people without lawyers are entitled to get meaningful advice and coaching to the extent that they can afford it. The client chooses whether to start with a one or a two-hour package of time and then can extend the time with the lawyer for as much as they want. (The average client uses over 11 hours of time paid for as they go along.) Instead of the lawyer telling the client what needs to be done and determining how long, and costly, it will be, the self-rep dictates what assistance they want and keeps control of the purse.

The demand for service includes help to navigate the system, prepare effective written material, and coaching on how to handle oneself in court and in communication with the other side. Coaching is by far what most people want – to give clients an understanding of what issues are of most concern to the judge, to create reasonable expectations, and to help craft effective written and spoken presentations.

After years in private practice, most recently as Chair of the Family Law Group at Ricketts Harris for 15 years, I stepped into semi-retirement and created The Family Law Coach to help the majority of those in family court who aren’t using lawyers. The service was developed from the perspective of a person new to the system but unable or unwilling to pay for someone with experience to take over their case. People like this are grossly underserved. 

There’s a growing interest and uptake by the profession for unbundled services and Limited Scope Retainers. That’s great. Unbundling is designed to provide part, but not all, of what a traditional service provides. An “unbundled” service is something that was otherwise included in the full “bundle”. 

But coaching – the most requested service by The Family Law Coach clients – isn’t “part” of a traditional service. We don’t “coach” clients to do anything but give us the material, watch us work, and pay for our expertise. Providing an unbundled service to a self-representing client and leaving them to deal with it is like giving a hungry person a fish to eat. Coaching is teaching them how to fish.

Any experienced family law lawyer and law firm can do what The Family Law Coach does. They can set up a part of their practice dedicated to remote dealings by phone and email and offer coaching as well as more focused unbundled services. The more people who do this, the better we are at serving the public. Access to justice is about access to services, and the easier we make that for consumers, the better off everyone is. 

Joel Miller is the founder and operator of The Family Law Coach.  Joel has practiced family law for over 50 years, taught at the Bar Admission Course, spoken at conferences in Canada and the United States, and is a Dispute Resolution Office of the Superior Court in Toronto. 

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