The National Self-Represented Litigants Project launches a Legal Coaching Project

20 March 2017

By Sergio Ortega

In January 2017, the National Self-Represented Litigants Project (NSRLP) launched a new legal coaching project. NSRLP Research Fellow Nikki Gershbain will lead the initiative, which was made possible by a fellowship from the Law Foundation of Ontario. With this project, the NSRLP will continue to build on their 2013 National Study, which highlighted the lack of availability of unbundled legal services in Canada.

The project intends to develop a training program for the legal profession, which will allow lawyers to better serve self-represented litigants by providing coaching services. With this purpose in mind, Gershbain will be holding consultations with lawyers and self-represented litigants throughout 2017.

Principles of Legal Coaching

The NSRLP 2013 National Study defines legal coaching as “helping [clients] make their own decisions about procedure and strategy”.

Gershbain argues that an important skill for lawyers wishing to provide legal coaching services is identifying the right clients. In a recent interview with Legal Feeds, Gershbain acknowledged that coaching is not the right solution for every client.  In her view, the ideal client for legal coaching should be self-motivated, willing to be coached, and have a high literacy level.

Gershbain also suggests that lawyers providing coaching services to self-represented litigants should “… guide the client through the process, teach the client what he or she needs to know to get through the process, and empower the client to be able to get through it on their own”.

Coaching in the Context of Unbundled Legal Services

Gershbain sees legal coaching as a natural extension of the unbundled legal services model, which the NSRLP 2013 National Study defines as “the delivery of legal services on a task by-task basis”. The NSRLP legal coaching project comes at a time when several institutions are investigating and proposing different forms of unbundled legal services to address issues around access to justice:

  • Later this month, the CBA National Access to Justice Committee will host a webinar on limited scope retainers.
  • In their report An Agenda for Justice, the BC Branch of the CBA recommended continuing and increasing funding for the LSS Expanded Family Duty Counsel initiative. This pilot project provides legal coaching for self-represented litigants.
  • The Law Society of BC and Mediate BC developed a family law toolkit, hosted by Courthouse Libraries BC. The site includes tools like sample retainer agreements.
  • Courthouse Libraries BC, with the support of Access to Justice BC and Mediate BC, created a roster of family lawyers and paralegals willing to provide unbundled legal services.
  • The Benchers’ Bulletin (Summer 2016) published an article titled Overcoming resistance to limited representation, which tells the story of a self-represented litigant struggling to find limited scope representation in the province.

The NSRLP Legal Coaching project is of interest to the BCLI’s Financing Litigation Legal Research Project.

For more information on the NSLRP Legal Coaching Project, visit its website here.

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