Unbundled Legal Services an Underused Access-to-Justice Solution

Unbundled legal services can fill the access-to-justice gap left by spiralling legal fees and dwindling legal aid funding, Calgary and Vancouver family lawyer Marcus Sixta tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“I believe there is this large market of people who are unable to access traditional legal services because they either make too much money to qualify for legal aid, or their province doesn’t offer legal aid services in family law,” says Sixta, founder of Crossroads Law. “Even if you do have more money, you don’t necessarily have enough to pay a lawyer $5,000 per day to go court and run a trial for you.

“At our firm, we want to emphasize the potential for unbundled legal services to fill this gap in access to justice,” he adds.

Unbundling, which involves splitting legal matters into discrete tasks so that self-represented litigants can get professional help from lawyers on parts of their case, has a relatively long history in B.C., where the province’s law society adopted a set of recommendations making it easier for members to work on limited scope retainers for clients back in 2008.

Despite that, Sixta says the idea is only slowly gaining traction among the general public.

“Not enough people know about it, which is why I take every opportunity to inform them,” he says. “As soon as you tell people that it exists, it generates a great deal of excitement because they’re happy and surprised that they can get legal help in this way.

“It’s definitely something that needs to happen more in Canada, especially in jurisdictions like ours, where upwards of 60 per cent of cases filed in court have at least one party who is self-represented,” Sixta adds.

If more lawyers began offering limited scope retainers and coaching services for self-represented litigants, Sixta says it could help the entire court system move more smoothly.

“It causes countless issues when claims are not filed properly by unrepresented parties who don’t follow the proper legal procedures,” he says. “It also puts judges in a difficult position because they’re forced to give borderline advice from the bench and grant adjournments to give parties the best chance of advancing their case.”

At Crossroads, Sixta and his team welcome anyone who needs help with their family law matter, charging them for services on a pay-as-you-go basis.

“They can get legal assistance on an application or a couple of mediations, or maybe they just want someone to draft an affidavit or compile documents, while they run the file on their own. We can also bring them in for training on how to run a trial and cross-examine witnesses,” he says. “Clients are able to pull out whatever they want from the overall suite of available services, so they end up spending less on legal fees.”

Article first seen on February 28th, 2019 on AdvocateDaily.com.