Saskatoon

If you can't afford legal services, team up with a lawyer, says expert

The Law Society of Saskatchewan is supporting a pilot project in the province, providing support to lawyers interested in legal coaching.

Most people find the cost to hiring a lawyer prohibitive, but if client and lawyer work together, it's cheaper

Court is intimidating for many would-be legal clients. That's on top of a cost that is often prohibitive (Shutterstock)

Most people need to access legal services in their lives, but in Canada, the majority of people do not actually obtain those services.

It's too expensive.

A new alternative is coming to Saskatchewan in the form of a pilot project supported by the Law Society of Saskatchewan, called legal coaching.

"They have a lawyer coach in their corner providing guidance and encouragement and support and explaining things to them," said Lisa Eisen, an Ontario lawyer visiting the province to help with the pilot project and teach courses.

"Then they'll be able to take that information and move forward."

Sometimes that looks like preparing their own legal documents. Maybe their lawyer will check in to ensure they're submitting certain letters on time.

A new website is launching Thursday to help Saskatchewan lawyers serve the public through legal coaching.

All lawyers have the ability to practice legal coaching, but they might not know there are supports for this kind of practice.

"It's going to give a lot of information for lawyers about what steps they need to do. The number one thing they need to do is make sure that they and the client are fully apprised of what kind of services they're providing," said Melanie Hodges Neufeld, a lawyer with the Law Society of Saskatchewan.

She also notes that the lawyer and client must have a written retainer letter that outlines their specific working relationship and plan.

'Seeing the person'

Legal coaching is unique beyond the potentially lower cost of service.

"We're seeing the person sitting in front of us rather than the legal matter," said Ontario lawyer Eisen

"We're trying to spot the legal issues and what we sometimes forget to do is to look at the person in front of us."

Lisa Eisin is an Ontario lawyer and legal coach. She was in Saskatchewan to teach lawyers how they can become partners with their clients and work with them, rather than for them, which can be expensive. (Rosalie Woloski/CBC)

Part of the process is to assess how comfortable the client is taking on a bit of legal work. The plan differs depending on the client and the complexity of the legal matter.

Traditional representation is often still the most appropriate strategy. Legal counselling is more of a "tool in the toolbox," said Eisen.

The training Eisen is providing will happen in Regina and Saskatoon. It won't be new to everyone.

"We do have lawyers who've gone through this training already. They don't necessarily have to but they should," said Hodges Neufeld from her experience in Saskatchewan.

Eisen brings experience to the workshops in Saskatoon and Regina, and to the Law Society of Saskatchewan.

Her favourite legal coaching story involves a woman whose two daughters live with mental illness. They are legal adults, but still need support. Their father wanted to stop child support. He also wanted to be reimbursed for child support he had been paying.

The Law Society of Saskatchewan is offering courses that new lawyers might never have thought of. Legal counseling isn't necessarily taught in school, but it's available to all lawyers who are interested. (University of Saskatchewan)

The client told her she just didn't have the money to hire a lawyer. She assured her that there might be a way they could work together.

"She knew these girls' lives better than anybody," said Eisen.

Together she and the client put the information together. The client was comfortable enough to face the matter herself.

"He ended up writing her a check for $36,000."
 

with files from Saskatoon Morning

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