Who among us is living in an ivory tower? | Jo-Anne Stark

By Jo-Anne Stark

Law360 Canada (May 23, 2023, 12:23 PM EDT) --
Jo-Anne Stark
Jo-Anne Stark
Dear Jo:

Some days I wonder whether lawyers are living in an ivory tower … unable to see the problems that exist in the legal and justice system. I went into this profession to help people, not to work ridiculous hours at a desk just so I can buy a bigger house or a nicer car — but now that I’ve been working in the traditional practice of law for a few years, it seems like I’m stuck on a path that is taking me further from my core values. Is it too late to pivot?

Over the last several years, I have been asked to share my story of how I took training as a certified coach and turned that into a virtual law practice to help people remotely who are managing their own legal matters. Cost has made hiring a lawyer prohibitive for the average middle-class person, and the Canadian studies published over the last decade have encouraged our profession to become part of the solution. Legal coaching proved to be effective and for the last three years, I’ve been spending weekends training legal professionals with the tools to become legal coaches and to launch their own business to help self-represented clients. It’s been amazing to be a part of the Legal Coaches Association as we move the needle and improve access to justice by creating a supply of professionals who are qualified to offer affordable limited legal services!

As part of the outreach to encourage more legal professionals to consider this option, which offers a much better work-life balance and even the possibility of working remotely from anywhere, I routinely join social media “groups” with legal professionals. There, I introduce the concept of how legal coaching has grown into a more established and welcomed area of practice. I share how it can offer lawyers a new alternative to provide legal services.

Then one day I posted in a group of American lawyers on Facebook. Thinking I would get the usual support or interest in the idea of offering limited scope services, I was shocked to see a series of comments that reminded me that some lawyers are just too high up in their ivory tower and too unwilling to pull back the curtain to see what is really going on in the legal and justice system today. One person commented that you “can’t” teach people to do their own legal work and represent themselves. The next stated that it must be unethical to even suggest this type of service. And the next lawyer simply shouted “Canadien!!” in the comment section.

And there you have it. Feeling like I had been called out as some sort of social media terrorist, I was mortified by what I saw; certainly unlike anything I had seen before, from any other group of lawyers. The sentiment among this group of lawyers was … let them eat cake. And it was disturbing.

What is it about our profession that some among us think they can be so righteous? So entitled? And why do I keep hearing lawyers tell me that whenever there is a self-represented litigant on the other side of their case, they lament that the person is a problem that will hold things up. Wait ... the person who cannot afford to hire someone like you is the problem? Isn’t it the other way around?

Lawyers, for the most part, have priced themselves out of the running; so it takes a lot of x?!@ to state that these people forced to represent themselves are the problem. If 60 to 80 per cent of people can’t hire a lawyer because it is too expensive, then we are the problem. After all, weren’t we the ones who created the complex legal and justice system? And even if regulators cause operating costs to rise substantially (and that cost is naturally passed down to clients), aren’t the regulators mainly made up of practisng lawyers in our profession?

Maybe I’m being too sensitive; after all, the United States is dealing with overturned court decisions removing the rights of the very women who were posting these comments on Facebook; the same women lawyers are likely stressed out just sending their kids to school, hoping there isn’t yet another school shooting. Some are even questioning whether the rule of law is at stake in that country. It’s a different world “down there” and maybe I’m the one in the ivory tower, with little worries like coming up with innovative ways to help millions of people who are trying to seek justice on their own.

Or, maybe “Canadien” (and Canadian) lawyers are simply too polite and just care a bit more about the people scrambling to find affordable legal help?

Jo-Anne Stark, B.Comm., J.D., CLC, is the founding president of the non-profit Legal Coaches Association and author of Mastering the Art of Legal Coaching. Find her on LinkedIn.

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