Lawyer offers Albertans cheaper legal help online

An Alberta lawyer is trying out a unique business model — offering services online for a fraction of the cost, part of a growing movement of do-it-yourself legal representation.

Huge need for this type of practice, says organization that helps people going to court alone

A lawyer from Brooks, Alta., is trying out a unique business model — offering her services online for a fraction of the cost, part of a growing movement of do-it-yourself legal representation.

Sarah Bisbee says she got tired of turning away people who couldn't afford her $300-an-hour fee.

"One particular day I had five people call with some pretty sad stories, looking for help, and none of them could afford it and I said, 'Enough is enough, there has to be a better way.'"

Cutting overhead cost

Bisbee realized most of the hourly fee was going to overhead costs so she decided to launch something she has never seen in Canada — an online law practice. 

Besides finding a developer who shared her vision for the website, Bisbee had to make sure her approach met the Law Society of Alberta's rules.

Now, she offers potential clients a $79 online consultation and from there, clients can choose what kind of help they want from a lawyer, if any. Bisbee provides consultation, prepares documents, and even coaches people on how to fight their case in court, all by phone and email. She says the approach drops the cost to clients up to 75 per cent. 

"I think being able to practise online is a huge way to give back and be able to assist people who otherwise couldn't afford $300 an hour or more in legal fees. It's just not sustainable, especially in Alberta's current economic climate."

Group helps people without lawyers

There's a huge need for this type of practice, said Dayna Cornwall, a spokesperson with the National Self-Represented Litigants Project. The organization helps people who are going to court without legal counsel.

"We're delighted to see more of these kinds of services offered by lawyers," she said. "There are lots of people who perhaps they can't afford full representation, but they can afford something."

Cornwall says online lawyers could also help those living in remote communities, who might find it difficult to find an affordable lawyer.

With files from Colleen Underwood