Access to Justice: The DIY Index

By: John-Paul Boyd

Editor’s Note: John-Paul Boyd, the Executive Director of the U of C-affiliated Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF), started a new blog in August on Access to Justice in Canada. John-Paul will be cross-posting on ABlawg from time to time and blogging on family law decisions (see also his blog JP Boyd on Family Law). This first post is an index to five separate entries on DIY access to justice approaches originally posted on Access to Justice in Canada.

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DIY #1: Write and share plain-language information on the law

Prepare and distribute handouts with clear information about the law and dispute resolution processes. Handouts could cover topics including the substantive law on different issues, management of common litigation tasks and tips for successful mediation. Leave them in a brochure rack in your reception area; give copies to colleagues and to pro bono and community legal clinics; give them to social service providers such as abused women’s centres and immigrant settlement agencies.

DIY #2: Work with others and other’s work

Connect with a few of the social service agencies in your neighbourhood, find out where the holes are in their library of legal resources, and fill them. Think and write about the law in a way that addresses the unique legal needs and realities of each group’s target population. Work with community media and larger social service groups; these generally have a broader reach and better funding, and the work you do often goes much further.

DIY #3: Talk to your community

Get in touch with the libraries, community centres and social service groups in your area and arrange to provide one or more public lectures; public talks are a rewarding, enriching and engaging way of improving access to justice. The range of topics you can address is unlimited and could include introductions to court processes, alternatives to court, landlord tenant law, wills and estates, the basics of family law, and anything else that could of interest to the people you are talking to. Providing handouts gives the community group and the people at your talk an additional resource.

DIY #4: Unbundle your services, reinvent your billing model

Working on an unbundled basis is a great way to maintain a remunerative practice while offering legal services that are more accessible than services offered on a comprehensive, billable-hour basis, however few lawyers offer such services. Unbundling gives clients the services they select on fixed or predictable prince and within a defined time period; it gives lawyers a less stressful practice with a lower likelihood of mounting accounts receivable.

DIY #5: Do more work on a flat rate basis

Offering services on a flat rate basis is another way to maintain a profitable practice while improving access to justice. Under this model, the client can pick and choose which and how much of a lawyer’s services he or she will buy, at a fixed rate which is determined up front. The client and the lawyer are protected from the client’s frustration if a legal issue is not resolved before his or her resources are exhausted. The lawyer gets a file with a fixed scope of required labour and a minimal potential of becoming a dog file, payment up front and a minimal likelihood of collections issues, and a file free from the tyranny of recording time.

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About John-Paul Boyd

John-Paul Boyd is the executive director of the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family, a non-profit society affiliated with the University of Calgary, and a member of the bars of British Columbia and Alberta. Before joining the institute, John-Paul practiced for thirteen years as an arbitrator, parenting coordinator, collaborative practitioner, mediator and litigator in Vancouver, BC. John-Paul is the founding author of the public legal education wikibook JP Boyd on Family Law (originally published as JP Boyd's BC Family Law Resource), and was named as one of the six major providers of public legal education on family law in British Columbia in a 2012 report of the BC Public Legal Education and Information Working Group.
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One Response to Access to Justice: The DIY Index

  1. Thanks very much for posting this index to the do-it-yourself access to justice posts available on my new blog, Access to Justice in Canada.

    I started this blog largely as a response to certain concerns I have recently begun to harbour about the justice reform efforts presently underway throughout Canada. To be clear, I don’t have concerns about the efforts themselves, but about the lengthy time frames that are being discussed, the amorphous quality of the results striven toward and the eternal question of the adequacy of available funding, even though the time frames, ambiguity and funding problems are all entirely reasonable and appropriate to the enormity of the task at hand. Instead, I worry that we may be approaching a point of fatigue with access to justice issues and that the present momentum toward change may be imperilled by the time frames, ambiguity and funding issues endemic to the project.

    Recalling some of the projects that I’ve had the good fortune to be involved with in the past, I realized that there are an enormous number of things lawyers can do to improve access to justice that can be done right away, at little or no cost, without sanction from government, bench or bar, and don’t need to wait for the conclusion of processes of consultation, dialogue and planning. The new blog is intended to provide a forum for conversation about the meaningful changes lawyers can make locally, acting by themselves or in small groups, to promote access to justice.

    Although I don’t think it’s the job of lawyers, advocates and others to fulfil governments’ obligations, there is nevertheless a great deal we can do, and perhaps should do, to achieve an accessible justice system. Funding is a serious issue, to be sure, but we can start work now, without waiting for buckets of money to drop from the sky or government initiatives to reify.

    I invite you to contribute to the conversation as well, and will happily extend author privileges to fellow travellers. I’d like this blog to grow into a forum to discuss the small things that all of us can do to work toward meaningful access to justice.

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