Get Ready for Halloween with PignPotato!

zombie-fight-or-flightVancouver Mediators’ Lounge is ready for Halloween with a zombie-themed visit from PignPotato Game co-founders. Joan Braun and I will bring our prototype decks of Zombie Fight or Flight, the new collaborative card game from PignPotato Games.  Zombie Fight or Flight is a fast paced, easy to learn card game where we survive together or die trying.

PignPotato is a group of 7 local mediators, lawyers and creatives who came together out of the 2016 CoRe Jolts Game Jam to create games designed as tools for DR, including Mediate BC Roster mediators Sharon Sutherland, Joan Braun and Amanda Semenoff.

We will discuss the place of games in DR processes, describe our journey from Game Jam to Game Creation and play a few rounds of Zombie Flight or Flight. This is the last chance to preview the game before its Kickstarter Launch October 24.

We are still collecting feedback on the game for the training manual that accompanies the game for use by trainers, mediators and teachers. We would love more input from other DR professionals.

A photo posted by El Santo (@elsantonewwest) on

El Santo is a great venue with a modern take on Mexican cuisine, easy walking distance from the New Westminster Skytrain. Favourite fare includes fresh tortillas, white cranberry sangria and grilled caesar salad.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Vancouver Mediators’ Lounge – New West Edition
Thursday, October 20, 2016
6:00 – 8:00 PM
El Santo 680 Columbia St., New Westminster

Amanda Semenoff

Amanda Semenoff

Amanda Semenoff is a New West based mediator, facilitator and conflict resolution consultant. She loves weird, sticky and seemingly unsolvable problems, and has successfully worked with a wide range of clients including academics, corporate boards, teacher groups, community sports organisations, musicians and non-profits to create innovative solutions and common purpose.



Supporting Families Through Change: Unbundled Legal Services Project Part 5

In Part 4 of this series on unbundled legal services, we explored the survey responses about unbundling from members of the public who have encountered legal issues related to their separation and divorce.   We dealt with their experience with accessibility and use of unbundled legal services in general and in mediation.  In this post we will explore their experience with financial arrangements for unbundled services, their satisfaction with those services and their suggestions for change.  The formal summary of survey results can be found here.

Financial Arrangements

Consistent with the responses of lawyers, the vast majority of financial arrangements were based on the hourly rate method (regular rate, discounted rate or some combination).  Flat fee options were used in a minority of situations including the following:

“I paid a flat fee plus I put together the Binder and had the lawyer fact check the information and she presented in Court for 30 minutes.”

Research[1] shows that people seeking legal services value affordability, control over price and predictability of cost.  Interestingly, 50% of family respondents to this survey reported that in hindsight the unbundled services they received were somewhat or very affordable (compared to their perception at the time of the retainer: 35%).

Despite this finding, however, the hourly billing method is unlikely to meet any of these criteria without some clearly negotiated boundaries.  People with a limited budget do not prefer an open-ended fee arrangement, particularly with hourly rates in the $250 – $500 range.

One respondent commented:

“Even with a discounted rate, and even though I did a lot of work on my own, the amounts added up.  I ended up spending $20,000 on legal fees, in the course of a year.  It easily would have been $100,000 without these arrangements.”

Many lawyers are experimenting with flat fees and implementing them on a variety of unbundled tasks.  For example, lawyers we interviewed commonly offer a flat fee for the initial consultation meeting (usually with a fixed time) which works well for them and their client. There are also a myriad of other creative fee arrangements that could be used to advantage for unbundled legal services.  Innovative firms in Canada (such as the Family Law coach) and in the U.S. (such as LegalYou) are already developing new approaches to pricing that create a viable revenue stream and keep costs to a reasonable level for their clients.  It seems that there is significant room for innovation in this area as well and this project will consider options as part of its exploration of alternative business models.

Client Satisfaction with Unbundling

71% of respondents said they were likely or very likely to seek unbundled legal services for a future family dispute.  They particularly appreciated the lower cost and the ability to be more in control of their own legal matter.  Most were extremely grateful for the services provided by their unbundled lawyer.

“I wish I knew about this option much much earlier.  Too much money was spent in the first part of my divorce (a year’s salary approximately).”

“In hindsight, I was so lucky to have access to these services.  I would not have been able to afford it otherwise.”

The results of this survey support the conclusion that many families want and could benefit from unbundled legal services.  Those who used them found them extremely valuable and would use them again in future.  There is likely still a large group of people who do not yet know that these services are available and would jump at the chance to use this approach if they could.  Studies refer to a large population of people who have an “unmet need for legal services” particularly in the family area.  These people have legal needs but no “real” access to a lawyer or paralegal and constitute a potential “untapped market” for well-designed and affordable legal services.

Survey respondents provided a long list of suggestions for system improvement (see the summary here).  Of particular importance to them were access to legal information, to out-of-court options including mediation and to affordable legal services.  They called for more unbundled services, rules making it mandatory for lawyers to explain unbundling as an option and more online information about unbundling.

This project (and the aligned A2JBC initiative) are focusing on increasing the number of BC family lawyers who offer unbundled legal services and making a list of these lawyers available to the public online and through other means.  We are collaborating with the National Self-Represented Litigant Project who are about to launch a national database of unbundling lawyers.

Closing Comments

The next post in this series will discuss the responses of family mediators (both private mediators and family justice counsellors) to unbundled legal services.

Information about the BC Family Unbundled Legal Services project can be found here.  Summaries of the responses to all three surveys are posted on that page.

Mediate BC is enormously grateful to the lawyers, mediators and members of the public who participated in these surveys – thank you!  The information was really helpful.  Stay tuned for more information.

[1] Including the report of the National Self-Represented Litigants Project (2013).  Executive summary here:

Kari D. Boyle Receives 2016 Susanna Jani Award for Excellence in Mediation

Thanksgiving in Canada centres around the harvest and is in many ways a celebration of abundance. We’re fortunate to have abundance in food, which many of us enjoyed with friends and family this weekend. In the Mediate BC family, we’re blessed with abundance in those working to advance mediation in new ways and to best serve the needs of the public.

Kari D. Boyle receives the 2016 Susanna Jani Award for Excellence in Mediation from Brian Gibbard and Monique Steensma.This past month we had the honour of presenting Kari D. Boyle with the 2016 Susanna Jani Award for Excellence in Mediation at Mediate BC’s Vancouver Reception on September 16th. Many of you will know Kari from her writing on this blog or on Slaw, as the Coordinator of the BC Family Justice Innovation Lab, committee member for Access to Justice BC, or her many leadership roles with Mediate BC (former Executive Director, former Director of Strategic Initiatives, Unbundled Family Legal Service Project Manager, etc.). Kari has been an indefatigable supporter of mediation and access to justice in BC.

Long-time Mediate BC board member Jane Morley, QC was unable to attend the reception, and provided the following message to Kari to be shared with all in attendance:

Kari, I wish I could be there to celebrate you as you receive the Susanna Jani award. I cannot think of anyone who more deserves this recognition. Your contribution to mediation in BC has been long-term and amazing, and I know (because I have the privilege and delight of continuing to work closely with you), it is continuing.

I first knew you by reputation – as a highly competent, intelligent and committed Executive Director of the Dispute Resolution Practicum Society. During the short time I was on that Board, I observed for myself that this reputation was well-founded. However, it was when you and I worked together on the merging of the Practicum Society and the Roster Society that I really began to understand the depth of your strength and capacity. It was then that our friendship developed, and we became partners in various interesting endeavours that, whether successful or not, have always been learning experiences for both of us. It has been onwards and upwards ever since.

Whether it was developing a transformative scenario planning exercise for the Mediate BC Board or declaring the start of the Family Justice Social (now Innovation) Lab or watching you adapt user-design approaches to BC, again and again I have seen you demonstrate your competence, intelligence and commitment to mediation and serving the public. I have developed a growing admiration of your capacity to stick to your deeply rooted principles, while demonstrating an inquiring and open mind. To be able to be both dogged and flexible simultaneously is the mark of a very special person. And you are a very special person!

This award appropriately marks the end of one chapter of your story – being the founding Executive Director of Mediate BC and its predecessor the Practicum/Innovation Society. You are leaving an organization that is respected widely by those who consider it “their” organization and by leaders of stakeholder organizations across the justice system. The strength of Mediate BC is, in no small measure, a reflection of your strength.

Being a recipient of the Susanna Jani award is an affirmation of the high regard in which the mediation community holds you. For my part, I feel privileged to have worked with you in this chapter that is closing. I am delighted at the prospect of working with you even more intensely in your next chapter as leader of the BC justice system’s first innovation lab. I know that in this new chapter, you will continue to champion mediation, and work to expand its use, and the application of its underlying principle of self-determination, to the entire family justice system in BC.

In absentia, I ask everyone present to raise their glasses and give a toast  – to Kari!

About the Susanna Jani Award for Excellence in Mediation

The Susanna Jani Award for Excellence in Mediation, established in 2009is an annual award acknowledging a person who has made a significant contribution to the field of mediation in BC. Previous recipients include Ron Tucker, Gordon Sloan, Sharon Sutherland, Peggy English, Lee Turnbull, Carole McKnight, Sally Campbell, M. Jerry McHale, QC, and Joyce W. Bradley, QC.

Supporting Families Through Change: Unbundled Legal Services Part 4

In part 3 of this series on unbundled legal services surveys, we summarized the responses of family lawyers about what they believe needs to change in order to encourage them to provide more unbundled legal services for families. In this post we explore the survey responses about unbundling from members of the public who have encountered legal issues related to their separation and divorce. The formal summary of survey results can be found here.


46 people responded in total but not all respondents answered all questions.  60% of the respondents were women and 40% were men.  Ages ranged from 21 – 80 with an average age of approximately 47.  Thanks to communications support from Dr. Julie Macfarlane (NSRLP) and J.P. Boyd (CRILF), we received responses from people in four provinces and one territory:  BC: 72%; AB: 11%; ON: 11%; SK: 3%; NT: 3%.  86% reported living in a city.

Accessibility and Use of Unbundled Legal Services

Only 38% (17) had used unbundled legal services for their family matter.  The survey responses as a whole confirmed that unbundled services were clearly valued by those who used them.  However, many did not know these kinds of services existed (and would have used them if they did) and most found it extremely difficult to find lawyers who offered these services.

Of those who did not use unbundled services, 73% said that they did not know these services existed.  31% said that they could not find an unbundled lawyer. 41% of those who did use unbundled services reported that it was somewhat or very difficult to find an unbundled lawyer to help them.

In the first post in this series we reported that 76% of lawyers responding to the survey said they provided unbundled legal services but only 26% said they advertised these services.  If 76% of family lawyers are providing these services (and the responses to the survey was too small to extrapolate to the BC bar as a whole) then why do people have such a hard time finding them?  Based on our more in depth interviews with family lawyers we suspect that most lawyers offer unbundled services on a one-off or irregular basis and consider these services to be an “add-on” rather than an embedded part of their practice.  We have spoken to lawyers who have developed successful business models that center on or incorporate unbundled services (both in Canada and in the U.S.).  It may be that an additional “barrier” to lawyers is the lack of a robust and lucrative business model to support this different mode of service delivery (and pricing).  The project is exploring this topic and hopes to have some helpful guidance and case studies to offer.

Unbundled services to support mediation

Of those respondents who had used unbundled legal services (17), 11 reported that they had used mediation to resolve their family issues.  Only two respondents provided information about the type of unbundled services they received to support their use of mediation:  legal advice during mediation, formal independent legal advice on an agreement or MOU and preparing a binding agreement.

This fits with the responses of the lawyers who all said they provided unbundled services to support mediation and participated in a wide variety of different kinds of unbundled services to support families using mediation.  The significant use of mediation in this group is notable.  Based on the results of the mediator survey, we suspect it may be because mediators are encouraging parties to seek legal advice (and unbundled services in particular).  The mediation community sees this as a critical need and they report struggling to find adequate resources to assist parties who need legal advice.  A future post will discuss survey responses from BC family mediators.

Closing Comments

The next post in this series will explore the experience of family members with financial arrangements for unbundled services, their satisfaction with those services and their suggestions for change.

Information about the BC Family Unbundled Legal Services project can be found here.  Summaries of the responses to all three surveys are posted on that page.

Mediate BC is enormously grateful to the lawyers, mediators and members of the public who participated in these surveys – thank you!  The information was really helpful.  Stay tuned for more information.

Supporting Families Through Change: Unbundled Legal Services Project Part 3

In Part 2 of this series of posts on unbundled legal services, we explored lawyers’ use of various fee arrangements to support unbundling as well as the perceived benefits and concerns about unbundling.  In this post we will focus on lawyers’ views about what needs to change in order to encourage them to provide more unbundled legal services for families.

What needs to change?

Those who were not currently providing unbundled services responded with comments falling into these themes:

  1. A structure or system to support unbundling

Respondents emphasized the need for a comprehensive framework to address perceived risks.  They suggest that the framework include an understandable process to follow complete with clear professional guidelines, templates, checklists, ready-made materials and guidance on critical issues.

“Like all things lawyers do, a clear checklist of steps taken and information received can reduce the risks here.”

The project team is already working on creating a Lawyer Toolkit on unbundled legal services for families.  Version 1.0 will include clear, “fill in the blanks” template retainer letters, checklists, flowcharts and some examples of wording lawyers can use on their websites or promotional materials.

  1. Support and endorsement from the Law Society

In line with the liability concerns noted above, respondents identified a need for a greater sense of support from the Law Society (and its insurer), particularly in the event of a claim or complaint.  One respondent emphasized the need to feel that he was “not going to get in trouble if I’ve missed something due to the way unbundled services are handled, especially because clients like this are generally in a rush but don’t have all of the information and it’s never as simple as they think.”

Another explicitly called for “greater protection/support to lawyers from the Law Society”.

  1. Education of, and promotion to, the public about unbundling

“It would be helpful if there was more knowledge in the public about the benefit of these services so that we are not doing all of the educating on it.”

Another Respondent commented on the same theme:

“Education for family law lawyers and the public is needed – educating family law lawyers on how to provide unbundled services with the least amount of risk and educating the public on the availability of these services and what they mean – that they are not hiring a lawyer but simply contracting out certain services or parts of their case to an expert who will only be liable for the service or advice they have been hired for and nothing else.”

Another goal of this project is to create a public-facing list of BC family lawyers who are willing to provide unbundled legal services to families.  Once the toolkit is in place we will be issuing invitations for lawyers to participate in this exciting initiative.

Closing comments

Respondents were asked to provide any other comments.  One respondent said:

“In today’s world, unbundled services are crucial for families because of the cost of legal services, and the limits to availability to legal aid.  Unprepared self-litigants in court leads to increasing costs and poor results.  Support to mediation is crucial given that without support, mediations can result in poor agreements.”

In the next post in this series we will begin to explore the responses about unbundling from 46 members of the public who have encountered legal issues related to their separation or divorce.

Information about the BC Family Unbundled Legal Services Project can be found here.  Summaries of the responses to all three surveys are posted on that page.

Mediate BC is enormously grateful to the lawyers, mediators and members of the public who participated in these surveys – thank you!  The information was really helpful.  Stay tuned for more information from the BC Family Unbundled Legal Services Project.

Supporting Families Through Change: Unbundled Legal Services Project Part 2

The first post in this series described the demographics of lawyers responding to the survey about unbundling and focused on the types and frequency of unbundled services for families.  In this post we will focus on lawyers’ responses to questions about financial arrangements for unbundled services and their perceptions of the benefits and concerns about unbundling.

Financial Arrangements

lawyers-fig-2The vast majority of lawyers indicated that they used some variation on the hourly rate model for unbundled legal services.  Less than 40% indicated that they used a flat fee approach.  When asked how they decided which model to use, responses ranged from “Client decides – here are the options…” to firm rules prevail:  “The firm has set a flat fee for certain routine functions. Bespoke legal work is billed at an hourly rate”.  Respondents noted that flat fees were used for discrete tasks and when the “time spent on the work can be safely estimated beforehand.”

While the prevalence of the hourly rate method is not surprising (it works well for lawyers), it does not reflect the client’s needs for cost certainty or increased control over their legal matter.  There is room for creativity in the billing approach for unbundled legal services.  Lawyers in other jurisdictions are gaining experience with flat fee billing and other alternative fee arrangements which offer significant advantages to lawyers as well as their clients.

Benefits to Lawyers of Unbundling

Family lawyers were asked to identify the benefits that they or their firms experienced by providing unbundled legal services.  Responses fell into the following categories:

  • Increased numbers of clients and higher turnover of clients (shorter matters)
  • Increased and more stable cashflow
  • Personal satisfaction for work aligning with personal values: “Helping clients with limited financial means who would otherwise be disadvantaged due to power, economic and other imbalances.”
  • A business model that allows flexibility, lower overhead, affordable fees, ability to serve less affluent clients

Many lawyers who offer unbundled services do it on a “pay as you go” basis.  That is, clients pay for each task or group of tasks as they are completed.  This approach eliminates accounts receivable and the annoying, unpleasant and cumbersome processes involved in collecting unpaid accounts.

A flexible business model for unbundling can allow for part-time work and providing services virtually.  This should be an attractive feature for many lawyers, including those at either the beginning or end of their careers.  As one respondent put it:

“I am considering changing my business model to exclusively provide virtual, unbundled services at a lower cost.  Eliminating my overhead will allow me to provide this service virtually.  I am currently researching alternative business models to determine whether this is viable.”

The project is exploring the business models that work best for unbundled legal services and intends to include information about that in the lawyer toolkit.

One respondent expressed some concern about the additional “cost” to the firm of the upfront administrative work required (presumably to clarify the role and complete the detailed retainer agreement) but balanced that against the personal satisfaction derived from doing this work:

“I cannot say my firm experiences the benefit – because there are extra steps we take to ensure our relationship with the individual is clear – this costs us extra time.  However, on a personal level, it feels like the right thing to do.  If my help can make a difference to someone – help them better understand their case and the applicable law then that’s one less person lost and frustrated in our family law system.  Also, I appreciate the difference preparing someone for court or mediation will make to the adjudicator or mediator.”

Concerns about Unbundling

Lawyers (whether or not they provided unbundled services) were asked to identify concerns about offering unbundled legal services to their family clients.  Many answered that they had no concerns, or at least no greater level of concern than for the “usual” family retainer.

The most common themes from other respondents, in rough order of priority, are as follows:

  1. Fear of claims, liability, and complaints from unhappy clients.

“If I could feel more at ease about being sued – if unbundled services in family law were more common and better understood by the public – then I would provide these services more.”

 “The lack of specificity as to the nature and extent of the retainer and managing client expectations and those of the other side, represented or not.”

“Ultimately, that the lack of understanding of legal issues and case law would cause them to make a claim against me in the future.  I would see this happening especially in instances where I drafted pleadings and/or affidavits, but the client self-represented during a hearing.”

Others acknowledged these concerns but noted that these risks could be managed:

“I understand that there may be a concern about being held responsible for matters beyond the retainer agreement.  But I set out the nature and limits of the arrangement in a retainer agreement, and then keep it on track in conversations, emails, and letters, so that there is no misunderstanding.  If I sense that a client could become problematic in this regard, I take whatever precautions are appropriate, including terminating the retainer.”

“I do not have too many concerns as I am careful in my treatment of clients.  Concerns could be liability, and/or having to deal with clients who make complaints to the law Society which takes time to deal with.  However, these are concerns whether services are unbundled or not.  One must take careful notes, and be clear with clients about the limitations of the service.  Signed agreements to that effect are helpful.”

“I have not advertised because of insurance concerns around providing unbundled services – I try to avoid providing these services, but also understand the great need for such services.  Now that I know the LSBC is encouraging this practice and has developed some unbundled services retainer agreement precedents I will likely advertise these services on my website.”

As Julie Macfarlane asserts in her recent post, fears of complaints or liability are unfounded and not supported by the experience of lawyers in other jurisdictions.  So long as the relationship is carefully structured and documented lawyers find that clients are good to work with and extremely grateful for the services provided.  Examples of feedback to this effect from family members who received unbundled services will be provided in a future post.

  1. Preference for clients to have the full representation model; unbundling is a second rate service.

“Most people would benefit from full representation to help relieve their stress and anxiety and get better outcomes but they just cannot afford it.  So it often feels like unbundled services are second best.”

“That it is not a complete service.  The information is too limited to provide the best service.  Missing information and limitations result in risks that the client has to accept.”

“Providing ad hoc assistance is counterproductive to effective representation, which is powered by an overall strategy.  Clients are often left either more confused than ever, half way through a process or an argument they don’t fully grasp, or overly confident in their abilities and expectations of the final outcome.”

Others noted that even if full representation was best, not all clients can afford that model.  One has to ask: if the client cannot afford full representation then what is the alternative – nothing?

  1. Discomfort with the possibility that the lawyer does not have all of the relevant information before providing services.

A number of respondents reported concerns about “not having all of the information to do things correctly” and “(not) getting all the information/facts (and background) to give a truly informed opinion”.

“I think there are significant risks to a lawyer – in order to satisfy our professional obligations we need to make sure we have full disclosure and that (the) client fully understands what they are giving up.  This is not a business transaction.  I do not think it is appropriate for family lawyers.”

“It’s scary for lawyers, and has the greater potential to lead to negligence or errors because contact with the client and the ability to verify and gather information is limited by the nature of the representation.  Plus, clients going to various lawyers for unbundled service is not effective.”

Lawyers are trained in the “no stone unturned” approach.  They fear criticism (by other lawyers or judges or…) if they are (later) found not to have considered some fact or evidence relevant to the client’s situation.  If this is perceived to be a risk, then isn’t the first question “how can this risk be managed”?  If the lawyer and client have addressed this issue at the outset and carefully crafted the retainer agreement, it is difficult to see how the lawyer could later be faulted if the client did not reveal a relevant fact or it was not evident with the usual level of diligence.

One respondent noted that the provision of independent legal advice (usually on a separation agreement), was perceived to involve the highest level of risk for counsel:  “We only know what we are told and while I paper over as much as I can, ILA is inherently risky.  Clients don’t know what they haven’t told us and as we don’t have a working historical relationship with the client there is huge room for miscommunication.”

Of course, the provision of independent legal advice is an unbundled service that family lawyers have been providing for many years.  Again, cannot these risks be addressed with a carefully crafted retainer agreement?

While not raised directly in the survey responses, interviews of over 25 BC family lawyers revealed another type of concern:  reputational issues.  Some lawyers worry that Judges or other lawyers would think less of them if there was some reason to criticize the lawyer’s work and the lawyer was not there to defend him or herself or that they will be called on by a Judge to provide services outside of the negotiated unbundled retainer agreement.  Support from the Judiciary for unbundled legal services will be critical to its success.  The project is in the process of liaising with all three levels of court in BC to explore these issues with the Judiciary.

In part 3 of this blog series we will describe the lawyers’ views about what needs to change in order to encourage them to provide more unbundled legal services.

Information about the BC Family Unbundled Legal Services Project can be found here.  Summaries of the responses to all three surveys are posted on that page.

Mediate BC is enormously grateful to the lawyers, mediators and members of the public who participated in these surveys – thank you!  The information was really helpful.  Stay tuned for more information from the BC Family Unbundled Legal Services Project.

Supporting Families Through Change: Unbundled Legal Services Project Part 1

Mediate BC is continuing to work to improve access to justice for BC families.  With the inspiration of the Law Society of BC and the generous funding from The Law Foundation of BC, Mediate BC is leading a project to encourage more BC family lawyers to offer affordable unbundled legal services to families experiencing separation and divorce.[1]  In addition, Access to Justice BC has identified “unbundling” for families as one of its first initiatives.  This project and the A2JBC initiative are running side by side.

While the focus of this project is on using unbundled services to support families using mediation to resolve their issues, the project seeks to learn more about attitudes toward, and experience with, unbundled services of all kinds.

The project sought input from BC family lawyers, family mediators and the public through online surveys.   This is the first of a series of posts commenting on the survey responses.

Different terms are used to describe “unbundled legal services” including “limited scope representation” and “limited scope retainer”.  We need a better descriptive term which has meaning for both the legal community and the public.  For the purpose of the surveys we used “unbundling” to describe a lawyer providing legal services for a part, rather than the whole, of the client’s legal matter.  The retainer may be for one or more discrete tasks or for one or more specific issues.

Let’s start with the responses from family lawyers.  They often play multiple roles for clients, so we asked them to focus their responses on their lawyer role.


45 lawyers responded in total but not all respondents answered all questions.  77% of the respondents were women and 23% were men.  Ages ranged from 31 – 70 with an average age of approximately 48.  76% reported living in a city, 12% in a small city and another 12% in a town.

Types and Frequency of Unbundled Legal Services

76% of lawyers said they provided unbundled legal services.  This is important because it shows that unbundled legal services are not new – lawyers have long provided legal services on this basis in a variety of practice contexts.  Consider providing independent legal advice on a separation agreement or a mortgage, providing a second opinion on a difficult legal issue, providing an initial consultation on a potential claim (including a CBABC Lawyer Referral matter), advising in the role of duty counsel.  Some respondents noted that they didn’t think of these roles as being “unbundling”.  We suspect that lawyers usually offer unbundled services on an ad hoc basis and do not consider them to be a formal part of the lawyer’s practice.  Perhaps we are now seeing a major shift in the system.  With the increasing number of family members who need legal assistance and who cannot afford to hire a lawyer on a full-representation basis the demand has increased to the extent that unbundled legal services could form a solid part of the lawyer’s practice.  (More on the topic of financial arrangements and workable business models in future posts).

The lawyer survey results showed that the number of families they served on this basis was typically low (an average of 3.75 clients per month) and only a quarter of the lawyers who provided these services said that they advertised their unbundled services through their website or otherwise.  So, even if they did offer unbundled services, the public would have a hard time finding them.  This conclusion is supported by the results of the family survey which confirmed that people had a very difficult time finding a lawyer to provide unbundled services (more on this topic later in this series). It seems that unbundling has been around for a long time but it has been provided informally and “under the radar”.

The lawyers described providing a wide variety of unbundled services for families including providing:

  • Preparation of documents and forms for the court
  • Advice for self-represented litigants in court (procedural and substantive)
  • Coaching
  • Independent legal advice on agreements
  • One-time representation in court or at a discovery
  • Other services to support clients using mediation

We probed more deeply into unbundled services to support families using mediation.  100% of respondents (n=19) confirmed that they provide a wide variety of these services:


Some respondents advised that they are willing to provide any unbundled service:  “I can’t say I focus on any one area.  It’s ultimately up to the client how they use my services.”  However, most expressed a preference for a more restricted scope of practice:

  • Initial consultation/advice including conflict resolution options
  • Independent legal advice on an agreement
  • Editing and redrafting of documents/materials for Court
  • Coaching on settlement negotiations

Some representative comments:

“Editing and redrafting of materials, as this is the most effective way to help a client.  If they are before the Court with relevant, organized materials, they will be better equipped to meet the needs of the judge in understanding the case.”

“Initial advice and ILA.  Initial advice is crucial to how folks approach conflict resolution.  Section 8 (of the FLA) may be mandatory.  However, the view of counsel will impact on advice given.”

“I prefer unbundled services that will help individuals avoid court.  For example, offers of settlement on a specific issue, preparation of financial and document disclosure, preparation for mediation or taking steps to force the other party into mediation.”

Many lawyers said that they preferred to avoid services relating to litigation, particularly representation at trial.  The important take-away is that lawyers can restrict the type of unbundling services that they provide.  They can design a practice that focuses on the type of services that they find both enjoyable and lucrative.

A key principle of effective unbundling is that the lawyer must make a careful judgment call at the outset of a relationship whether to take on this particular client or the kinds of services requested.  Lawyers identified some of the “red flags” they look for, including:

  • Clients who did not have the capacity or ability to self-represent
  • Clients who had retained many other lawyers
  • Clients who were overly confident or fixed on a position not supported by law
  • Clients who did not listen
  • Clients with various personality traits described by the respondents as “high maintenance”, angry, manipulative or tending to “pick fights”.

In part 2 of this blog series we will describe the lawyers’ use of various financial arrangements to support unbundling and explore their perceptions of the benefits and concerns about unbundling.

Information about the BC Family Unbundled Legal Services Project can be found here.  Summaries of the responses to all three surveys are posted on that page.

Mediate BC is enormously grateful to the lawyers, mediators and members of the public who participated in these surveys – thank you!  The information was really helpful.  Stay tuned for more information from the BC Family Unbundled Legal Services Project.

[1] The project’s scope does not include child welfare or child protection matters.

How is Conflict Managed in Cuba?

Presentation at the Higher Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology (InSTEC)
University of Havana, Cuba

During a recent trip to Cuba in February 2016, I was fortunate to have an opportunity to discuss alternate dispute resolution across cultures. I was invited by Dr. Maritza Lau Gonzalez, a director at the University, to lead a discussion on the topic of managing conflict in Cuba. Faculty at the university shared what types of conflicts they have and how people respond to them. Professor Ramiro Zayas Frutos acted as interpreter. Approximately 15 people participated in the session.Alternative dispute resolution students in Havana, Cuba

During the discussion people touched on general themes that included institutional conflict avoidance, interpersonal disputes, and different expectations for the learning environment.

More specifically, they shared the following observations:

  • People in authority often did not address and manage conflictual issues, leaving on-going issues unresolved.
  • Some students did not respect the professor’s role and teachings.
  • Co-workers did not always work collaboratively.
  • People tended to avoid conflict
  • There are power struggles between departments and colleagues.

It became apparent that subtle norms affect the way conflict is handled in a culture where the collaborative ethos of socialism shapes perceptions of conflict. For example, one of the participants talked about how she approached her supervisor for assistance and he said he would look into it. After repeated requests, with no action being taken, she just gave up. The issue was never resolved. She felt frustrated and hopeless. Even though the prevailing cultural norm is the leveling of social hierarchies, this woman suggested that it is difficult to be assertive with a person in power in her culture. Participants talked about unacknowledged hierarchies complicating the management of conflict.Donna Soules and  Dr. Maritza Lau Gonzalez presenting dispute resolution skills

People were enthusiastic about learning more skills such as listening and assertiveness. I recommended that skill development coupled with a shift in collaborative thinking would prepare them for a more successful exchange. People want to learn how to approach another person they are having difficulty with and learn how to help people be patient and listen when they have a disagreement. They hoped to set up a follow-up session with me while I was in Cuba but it was justnot possible to organize an all-day event on such short notice.

We discussed the type of conflict management training offered at some Canadian schools and I also shared examples from my mediation practice involving university environments. They mentioned the learning they acquired from a workshop Cheryl Picard presented during a recent trip to Havana (a Canadian author of books on mediation and conflict).

The complexity of Cuban society infiltrates institutions and complicates the management of conflict. Denial and defensiveness clearly shape how power is negotiated in this institution of higher learning.

Most surprising was the similarity of their challenges to issues I have mediated in university settings in Canada, frequently involving interests of respect and trust. Despite coming from diverse cultural backgrounds, our conflicts may be different but our interests are remarkably similar. Cuba’s socialism and culture of collaboration and interdependence have not eliminated personal and professional conflicts resulting from hierarchies embedded in institutional life.

Donna Soules

Donna Soules

Donna Soules is a Civil Roster mediator and educator. She holds a Masters degree in Conflict Resolution in Mediation and teaches at the Justice Institute of BC and Vancouver Island University. Donna maintains an active mediation practice based in Ladysmith, BC.

Thank You Volunteers!

BC is really blessed with a generous and engaged dispute resolution community. One doesn’t have to look far to find DR professionals giving their time and talents to a variety of projects.

By participating in our public awareness events, contributing to this blog, engaging in peer training opportunities, or shaping the direction of professional DR standards in BC, volunteers have contributed thousands of hours to make mediation effective and accessible. Volunteering is an enriching experience for everyone involved.

We look forward to continuing to increase the ways in which we engage with our community and offer more opportunities to become involved. Keep an eye out for volunteers calls in our newsletters. If you have ideas for new ways Mediate BC and Roster Mediators can support your organization or volunteering, please get in touch!

As April is volunteer recognition month, we wanted to end it with a heartfelt thank you to our 2015-2016 volunteers. We appreciate your spirit of generosity and support!

Rahul Aggarwal
Lisa Alexander
Rebecca Alleyne
Pater Altridge
Nigel Argent
Lisa Arora
Grace Baker
Sheila Begg
Kathleen Bellamano
Annina Bernardo
Fazal (Fuzz) Bhimji
Joan Braun
Jereme Brooks
Debbie Cameron
Nancy Cameron
Colleen Cattell
Matt Chritchley
Bev Churchill
Anouk Crawford
Jenifer Crawford
Tim Cullen
Sarah Daitch
Nicholette D’Angelo
Julie Daum
Nick de Domenico
Ina Ergasheva
Jory Faibish
Bob Finlay
Rob Finlay
Gary Fitzpatrick
Katherine Fraser
Carrie Gallant
Nicole Garton
Brian Gibbard
Deborah Giunio-Zorkin
Martin Golder
Leanne Harder
Brandon Hastings
Richard Horne
Darrin Hotte
Jennifer Hubbard
Kyra Hudson
Paul Jacks
Lindsay Jardine
Aurora Johannson
Noriko Kawaguchi
Wendy Lakusta
Bill Larose
Laura Matthews
Shelina Neallani
Alex Ning
Chris Ortner
Preston Parsons
Ella Pearle
Robin Phillips
Wayne Plenert
Emily Pos
Bobbi Poushinsky
Janko Predovic
Donna Rintoul
Amy Robertson
Adam Rollins
Marlene Russo
Jaime Sarophim
Richard Scott
Glenn Sigurdson
Maria Silva
Richard Singer
Ronald J. Smith
Susan Smith
Donna Soules
Colleen Spier
Sharon Sutherland
Paul Taberner
Yannie Tai
Janine Thomas
Tammy Van Hinte
Catherine Watson
Michael Welsh
Lori Williams


We’d also like to thank our Board of Directors and Roster Committee who all serve on a volunteer basis. These time-consuming and intense roles provide invaluable guidance and oversight to Mediate BC. Thank you!

Board of Directors

  • Brian Gibbard
  • Wayne Plenert
  • Jane Morley
  • Bill Keen
  • Gayle Bedard
  • Judge Andrea Brownstone
  • Lori Charvat
  • Paul Taberner
Roster Committee

  • Wayne Plenert
  • Carol W. Hickman
  • Arlene H. Henry
  • Nick de Domenico
  • Angela Stadel
  • Richard N. Stewart


Thank you all so much!


Designated Paralegals May Now Represent Clients in Family Law Mediation

LSBCAt its meeting on December 4, 2015, the Benchers of the Law Society of BC approved amendments to the BC Code of Professional Conduct to permit “designated paralegals” to represent clients at family law mediations.  There are some conditions, including:

  1. The client must provide informed consent and supervising lawyer must provide permission, taking into account the paralegal’s skill, knowledge and training;
  2. The supervising lawyer must be available by telephone or other electronic means during the mediation sessions;
  3. The supervising lawyer must review any settlement agreement arising from a family law mediation and such agreements are provisional until the lawyer has signed off; and
  4. Supervising lawyers are strongly encouraged to ensure that the designated paralegal has at least 14 hours of training in screening for family violence.

Lawyers are professionally and legally responsible for all work delegated to paralegals.  For further information please refer to the Law Society’s new rule (6.1-3.3) and commentaries:

“With the supervising lawyer’s permission, designated paralegals may represent clients at family law mediations (rule 6.1-3.3 and commentary) and guidance is provided to those supervising lawyers, including on recognizing family violence and giving legal advice (Appendix B commentary and Appendix E, Screening for family violence and Designated paralegals giving legal advice).”