Andrew Feldstein is a Toronto family law lawyer who is helping increase awareness about the availability of unbundled legal services to assist self-represented litigants.
In the latest instalment of his “It’s Time for Justice” series, he discusses the problem faced by many litigants in family court who would prefer to hire a lawyer, but can’t afford full legal representation. Although lawyers in Ontario are now permitted by the law society to offer unbundled, discrete scope, representation in family law as well as other matters, many family law lawyers and clients have not yet embraced this alternative model of the lawyer-client relationship.
Unbundled services increases the number of clients that a lawyer can help because it opens the doors for clients to get legal help on only certain parts of their case. How much of the case a client wants assistance with depends on their budget and, of course, their comfort level in managing other aspects of the case (such as court appearances) on their own.
Like the rules of professional conduct, the Family Law Rules also recognize that a lawyer may be assisting a client without ever becoming that client’s official lawyer of record. Traditionally, when a lawyer is ‘on the record’, they are required to keep representing the client even if the client can no longer afford to pay them. This obviously discouraged lawyers from taking on clients who couldn’t afford to pay significant monetary retainers upfront. In order to discharge their professional duties, the lawyer would have to bring a motion in front of a judge (usually at their own expense) in order to get the court’s permission to be removed from the record. Being able to assist a client without being on the record removes this risk for the lawyer, and increases the types of clients and cases a lawyer can safely take on.
It’s worthwhile reading Andrew’s thoughts on self-representation, access to justice, and unbundled service. He illustrates his points by presenting a number of real world examples of how going it alone in family court can be very costly for all involved.