Final Report of Mediate BC’s BC Family Justice Unbundled Legal Services Project Now Available

As many of you know, unbundled legal services help to fill the gap for people who do not qualify for legal aid and cannot afford full representation. Law Societies in many jurisdictions have formally approved unbundling (also called limited scope legal services) but few lawyers were offering these services to the public. The purpose of Mediate BC’s BC Family Justice Unbundled Legal Services Project (the “Project”) was to find ways to encourage more lawyers to offer these services.

After an 18 month process, I’m pleased to advise that the Project’s final report and the report of the independent evaluation of the Project are now available.

The Project has been highlighted in various Slaw posts during that period including here and Nate Russell’s excellent post here. While the final report details the Project’s activities, observations and deliverables during its 18 month life, the unbundling movement is far from over. In fact, the report acknowledges that, at most, it attempted to nudge an existing movement and that much more still needs to be done.

Unbundling is not the silver bullet for access to justice. However, it is an important piece of the access to justice puzzle. The Project used the term “unbundling” to include “legal coaching” and has collaborated the National Self-represented Litigants Project and Nikki Gershbain who are working to promote that important approach. We also shared information with JP Boyd’s Alberta Limited Legal Services Project.

The Project’s research and engagement phase identified both concerns/barriers and successful practices which led to the creation, in collaboration with others, of four major deliverables:

The Toolkit is open and available to anyone. While it focuses on family matters, the contents were designed to be adaptable to other practice areas. Tools address the major concerns expressed by lawyers: claims and complaints to the Law Society and reputational concerns.

Many lawyers are already providing unbundled legal services, although they may call them something different and, due to their concerns, may refrain from promoting or advertising those services. Unbundled legal services can come in many different forms and in a variety of practice areas. When he first learned about unbundling, one lawyer from the Okanagan was excited to announce that he was providing unbundled services to small claims litigants using a flat fee. We also encountered a number of BC lawyers who are focusing their practices on unbundling in creative and satisfying ways. We hope that the Project results will provide more lawyers with the incentive and reassurance to examine their own practices and consider how they could offer unbundled services to existing or new clients.

The report was also drafted with other change-makers in mind. It includes observations, principles and learnings that were designed to assist those who are supporting unbundling and related initiatives in other jurisdictions.

The Project evolved over time (as is expected when dealing in a complex environment) and focused on some key principles including:

  • Acknowledging that the Project attempted to intervene in a complex (justice) system and that change-making in that environment requires a different approach;
  • Embracing a “learn as you go” approach;
  • Gaining inspiration from other jurisdictions (which were also encouraging unbundling);
  • Collaborating with a wide variety of stakeholders including the public;

The report concludes with observations about unbundling and the change process, a vision for the future and some critical next steps. It urges stakeholders (in particular, the Law Society of BC, CBA BC Branch, Courthouse Libraries of BC and Access to Justice BC) to assume a joint stewardship role to continue to nurture the unbundling movement. The CBABC has already confirmed creation of a new province-wide Unbundled Legal Services section and A2JBC is in the process of forming an Unbundling Working Group. We are optimistic that the momentum created for unbundling will continue.

The Project evaluation report confirms the growing interest of lawyers in unbundled services and tangible support from the BC judiciary (which is encouraging). It also confirms perceived barriers to lawyer involvement plus strategies to address them, all of which were taken into account in designing both the Toolkits and Roster. The evaluation report also points out areas needing further research (including more robust input from clients who have used unbundled legal services). The report concludes with:

Across the board, there was concurrence that there is a crisis of legal affordability and that unbundled legal services are needed as one way to address a lack of access to justice and lack of access to legal services.

It is still early days in this journey and we hope that evaluation activities will continue as unbundling expands.

A key point emerging from both reports is the urgent need for a focused effort to raise public awareness of unbundling. Now that the profession is stepping forward to offer these services we need to let the public know they are available and how to find those who offer them.

We are extremely grateful to the Law Society of BC, the Law Foundation of BC, Courthouse Libraries of BC, CBABC and Mediate BC for their ongoing support (financial and otherwise) of this initiative and to the many other stakeholders who have stepped up to champion unbundling.

Please take a few moments to review the final report and evaluation report and consider how unbundling is or could be a more prominent part of your practice. While my official role in the Project has concluded, I would be happy to receive your thoughts and ideas and to support this important initiative as it moves forward.

[Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on Slaw: Canada’s Online Legal Magazine. Mediate BC is grateful to have been allowed to re-publish Kari Boyle’s post here. See all of Mediate BC’s posts on this project and unbundling.]

Kari D. Boyle
Kari D. Boyle

Kari D. Boyle is the BC Family Unbundling Roster Project Manager. She is also the Coordinator of the BC Family Justice Innovation Lab, a Knowledge Engineer with the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal, Board member of the Courthouse Library Society of BC and member of Access to Justice BC. Kari served as Mediate BC’s Executive Director and then Director of Strategic Initiatives for ten years. She enjoys using her legal, mediation and leadership experience to collaborate with others to improve BC citizens’ access to justice.

Photo by Mari Helin-Tuominen on Unsplash

Family Unbundled Legal Services Project Update

The Mediate BC Family Unbundled Legal Services project will be winding up at the end of June. We are working to pass the baton on this exciting initiative to other interested stakeholders, primarily the Courthouse Library Society of BC, Access to Justice BC and the Canadian Bar Association BC Branch. These three, plus the Law Society of BC, the BC Judiciary, the Ministry of Justice, the Law Foundation and others have provided significant leadership, input and support for unbundling over the past year and their continuing efforts will be critical to shepherd this initiative into the future. Thank you!

This is a good opportunity to provide a brief update about the status of the initiative.

First, we are very pleased to advise that on Saturday the CBABC Provincial Council approved the proposal to form a new provincial Unbundled Legal Services Section! We believe that this is the first such section / group in Canada and we are grateful for the CBABC in leading the way in this important initiative! While the section will begin with a focus on family unbundled legal services the intention is that it will service unbundled services in all practice areas. The toolkit materials were created, as much as possible, to be easily adaptable to other areas.

A special thanks to Zahra Jimale who spoke to the resolution on Saturday and who has also agreed to act as the first Chair of the section.

Work is underway to plan a 2017/18 meeting schedule, topics and speakers. Given the provincial nature of this section all meetings will be fully accessible using appropriate technology.

The Executive Officers for the section will be:

  1. Chair: Zahra Jimale
  2. Treasurer: Zahra Jenab
  3. Secretary: Laura Atkinson
  4. Members at large:
    • Robert Gunnarsson
    • Michael Butterfield
    • Polina Furtula
    • Sonali Sharma
    • Rizwana Choudry
    • Kari Boyle

This section is open to all CBABC members. This might be a good time to renew your membership! If you are not yet a CBABC member we will continue to work through the toolkit and otherwise to help you meet your needs for collegiality, peer support, sharing of materials etc. Your thoughts and ideas will be appreciated!

On June 20th, Carol Hickman QC, Jennifer Muller and Kari Boyle led a discussion about unbundling with the Supreme Court Judiciary in Vancouver (with video and telephone links to other locations). Given the increasing number of self-represented litigants in Supreme Court, participants were very interested in learning more about unbundling and provided many excellent comments and suggestions. A brochure explaining unbundling with a link to the Roster is in process.

The Provincial Court website already links to the Roster in numerous places. Chief Justice Bauman has been a strong supporter of unbundling and hosted a Law at Lunch seminar for Court of Appeal Justices in January.

One last note – the external evaluation of the Mediate BC Family Unbundled Legal Services Project will be completed by the end of this month and the evaluation report will be available in July. Many thanks to everyone who took the time to participate in surveys or interviews to support this evaluation.

Please let us know if you have any questions or suggestions:  kari.boyle@shaw.ca.

Stay tuned for more information!

Kari D. Boyle
Kari D. Boyle

Kari D. Boyle is the BC Family Unbundling Roster Project Manager. She is also the Coordinator of the BC Family Justice Innovation Lab, a Knowledge Engineer with the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal, Board member of the Courthouse Library Society of BC and member of Access to Justice BC. Kari served as Mediate BC’s Executive Director and then Director of Strategic Initiatives for ten years. She enjoys using her legal, mediation and leadership experience to collaborate with others to improve BC citizens’ access to justice.

How Unbundled Legal Services Can Support Your Mediation Clients

Since January 2016, Mediate BC has been spearheading a Law Foundation of BC funded project to encourage more family lawyers to provide “unbundled legal services”. The BC Family Unbundling Roster was launched recently, already has 36 participating lawyers (as of March 15, 2017) and continues to grow.

How will unbundling and the Roster assist family mediation practices and clients?

Family mediators told us that many of their clients are not represented by a lawyer and are reluctant to seek legal advice due to cost. Few clients actually seek and obtain independent legal advice (ILA) on agreements even though mediators recommend they do so. While some free legal services are available (Access Pro Bono, Legal Aid duty counsel and Family LawLine etc.), they are not available in all communities and many clients are not financially eligible for these services.

Effective legal advice can help the process move smoothly and provide clients with the help they need to overcome roadblocks. If one party is represented and the other does not have access to counsel it can create challenging power imbalances and put the mediator in a difficult position.
Effective legal advice helps #mediation move smoothly & provides clients the help they need Click To Tweet

There are many ways in which unbundling lawyers can support the mediation process. The Unbundling Roster now provides you with a “one stop” resource to assist your mediation client(s) to find a lawyer to assist them. Here are some of the ways that unbundling lawyers can assist:

  • Providing legal advice before mediation
  • Providing legal advice, as needed, during the mediation process
  • Representation during mediation (attending the mediation sessions)
  • Legal coaching about preparing for and participating in mediation
  • Preparing documents for mediation
  • Drafting agreements coming out of mediation
  • Providing independent legal advice on agreements

The Unbundling Roster is not just a list of names. Each roster lawyer has provided detailed information about themselves, their practice, the types of unbundled legal services they provide and their approach to providing these services. Just click on the link to the full profile for each lawyer.

Hint: We know that lawyers vary in their support for the mediation process. Check out the roster lawyers’ profile answers to the questions that focus on whether they have taken mediation training and the number of mediations in which they have participated.

BC Family Unbundling RosterAs part of the project evaluation we will be seeking feedback from clients, family lawyers and family mediators. Your input will be critical in assessing whether unbundled legal services improve access to justice for BC families, particularly those who are using mediation.

Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions. We appreciate your support!

Kari D. Boyle
Kari D. Boyle

Kari D. Boyle is the BC Family Unbundling Roster Project Manager. She is also the Coordinator of the BC Family Justice Innovation Lab, a Knowledge Engineer with the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal, Board member of the Courthouse Library Society of BC and member of Access to Justice BC. Kari served as Mediate BC’s Executive Director and then Director of Strategic Initiatives for ten years. She enjoys using her legal, mediation and leadership experience to collaborate with others to improve BC citizens’ access to justice. Kari invites you to contact her for more information at 604-838-2149 or kari.boyle@shaw.ca.