Legal coaching: disrupting the status quo

Quality services can be provided through a virtual law office, benefitting clients and practitioners

Jo-Anne Stark

As a legal coach, people reach out to me regularly looking for answers or guidance to direct them in their legal journey. During the pandemic, even more legal issues seem to arise, from employment issues to family law problems, due to job loss and the imperative to self-isolate. Getting the legal help they need, quickly and from their own home, is often very problematic for these individuals.

I’ve had legal inquiries recently from people needing help with an unmanageable debt load, who are struggling to manage child custody issues, and needing legal documents to help manage property for hospitalized family members, as well as contract issues for employees — all due to the COVID-19 crisis. As law offices closed their doors to the public and people stayed home to stay safe, there were many individuals who still needed help with legal problems.

But quality legal services can still be provided through a virtual law office, through legal coaching, which can benefit clients and practitioners alike.

In 2018 the Law Society of Saskatchewan put out a public call to lawyers inviting them to offer legal coaching. In March of the following year the province announced the Saskatchewan Legal Coaching and Unbundled Pilot Project LCUP, a partnership between the Law Society, Ministry of Justice, and CREATE Justice (the Centre for Research, Evaluation and Action Towards Equal Justice), College of Law, to advance legal coaching and offer more affordable counsel to self-represented litigants. In May 2020, the Law Society added Legal Coaching to its practice areas for lawyers.

As someone who was already certified as a coach practitioner, I leapt at the opportunity to become more involved. There is a massive market of self-represented litigants wanting coaching services, mostly middle-income people who are priced out of the traditional law firm market. I had already launched a virtual legal coaching practice and developed a platform that allows me to work from anywhere, without a paper file in sight; and by using coaching tools that incorporate concepts of positive psychology, I have been able to tap into that market and guide those clients to success.

A legal coach provides guidance, explains a litigant’s rights, and educates clients in the skills they will need to manage their own cases should they decide to proceed without counsel in court or mediations. Legal coaching not only provides an important service to self-represented litigants who require some guidance and support as they work through their own legal matters, but so many other benefits. Judges see more “self-reps” show up in court with papers in order and arguments that are on point, so less time is wasted in dealing with their proceedings; this saves everyone time and money. Clients report greater satisfaction and lower legal expenses, and lawyers who practise in this area also report more job satisfaction and less stress.

Being a legal coach allows you to set your own hours of work and run virtual video or phone sessions with clients when and where it is convenient. Legal coaches generally do not make court appearances, which frees up more time to serve clients. Once you and your client have established a set of goals and a plan to keep things on track, regular sessions can be set up remotely so that your client can check in with you and get help in areas where they may need it most, whether that be developing strategy, preparing for a court appearance, finalizing an affidavit, completing court documents, or answering letters from opposing counsel.

The client understands their responsibilities and agrees in writing on how the process will be carried out, all with the satisfaction of knowing they will not be charged more than a predetermined amount for a series of coaching sessions; no more surprise bills! Nor is there a need for the legal coach to deal with messy trust accounting, as invoices can be paid automatically by the client via credit card each month. Imagine a system that works seamlessly and with an overhead of under $200 a month!

Legal coaching is still a relatively new innovation, with small pockets of lawyers advertising these services. The Legal Coaches Association was recently established to provide a network for legal professionals who want to work together to promote legal coaching. This non-profit association is the first of its kind in North America, and lawyers who want to become a Certified Legal Coach may take a 12-hour in-person training course on a weekend to learn the skills needed to become a legal coach, while developing a business platform to operate efficiently.

Legal coaching is an innovative and practical solution for improving access to justice. Nothing is more satisfying than partnering with a client to empower them, providing a sense of hope and direction while working through legal issues; and coaching is a perfect option for lawyers who want to work from home while they raise a young family, or transition into retirement.

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