The most recent Lawyers Weekly contains an article describing the new Public Navigator Project being unveiled by the Nova Scotia Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia.
According to the article, the Project seeks to train non-lawyers to provide navigation assistance for Self Represented Litigants working their way through the judicial system.
As also pointed out in the article, the Project will require sustained funding to make it viable on a long-term basis (read “tax dollars” or “law society dues”).
Here’s the rub.
According to her Report on Self Represented Litigants in Canada by Dr. Julie Macfarlane, most SRL’s are not coming into the system without a willingness to pay for some assistance. Very few SRL’s in fact, are SRL’s by choice – quite typically they have actually expended a large amount of money already on lawyers and either were not happy with the result or, more often, just ran out of funds to continue the litigation.
So, then, the question is why the need for the Public Navigator Project when, by all accounts, many if not most SRL’s are prepared to pay money to lawyers for such a purpose. Lawyers with law degrees and legal experience?
Likely, lawyers are stuck in the “we’ve always done it this way” trap.
Or, just as likely, lawyers are leery over exposure to lawsuits or professional complaints for not serving their clients properly in circumstances where the lawyer is not in control of the litigation.
To be sure, in Alberta the Code of Conduct is rather ambiguous about lawyer responsibility in providing “limited scope” (client directed) service, looking to the commentary following Rule 2.01 on “Competence”:
Lawyers owe clients a duty of competence, regardless of whether the retainer is a full service or a limited scope retainer. When a lawyer considers whether to provide legal services under a limited scope retainer, the lawyer must consider whether the limitation is reasonable in the circumstances. For example, some matters may be too complex to offer legal services pursuant to a limited scope retainer.
What is “reasonable” – and do you feel comfortable having that judged in hindsight? Many lawyers will say “no”.
My opinion? The Law Society and the Courts understand the innate wisdom of providing assistance – albeit on a “limited” basis to a SRL. Provided you make clear the limitation on your service and the risk inherent in that decision – I think the risk is marginal.Beyond the marginal risk – I suggest there is a good “business” case for providing such service contemplated in the Nova Scotia Public Navigation Project. There is a demand and a willingness to pay for smaller delivery of legal service. There is a reason we see 7-11 and Mac’s stores all across Canada – THEY MAKE LOTS OF MONEY.
So. Then. Perhaps consider adding Limited Scope Retainer work to your practice. You will help many SRL’s, and in the bargain, just might improve your bottom line. Or, you could just pay more taxes and Law Society dues, and allow non-lawyers to do it (no offense Nova Scotia).
My door’s open to give that service. Give me a call!