When lawyers are only for the rich

SPECIAL REPORT: Fees are soaring, and thousands are being left behind

by Kate Lunau

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The Ontario Court of Justice, housed in a grey building with small slitted windows, could leave any visitor feeling like a tiny speck before the mighty judicial system. For Antoinette Augustine it was especially true. A single mother, she filed a lawsuit against her ex seeking child support and sole custody of their two kids. He hired a lawyer; she was on her own. “I don’t make a lot of money,” says the Toronto child-care worker. “But I make too much to get legal aid, and not enough to pay a lawyer.” Augustine was left with little choice but to represent herself.

Do-it-yourself legal work, she soon learned, isn’t for the faint of heart. “It’s back and forth, speak to the clerks, get it served, get it filed,” says Augustine, who used up all her vacation and sick days in a gruelling odyssey to sort out her family life. The stress took a toll: she broke down crying in front of court clerks, and was often overwhelmed at work. “I’d be online all night, or calling friends,” says Augustine, 36. Despite her best efforts, over a year later, the case had gone nowhere.

Augustine’s experience was harrowing, but it’s far from unique. As the cost of hiring a lawyer soars out of reach, unrepresented litigants are flooding the courts in unprecedented numbers. While no definitive figures exist, some judges, especially in family law, say it’s over 60 per cent in their courtrooms. Chances are, those numbers are going to rise, as the legal profession is now paving the way for even more people to appear without a lawyer. Self-help centres have sprung up in several provinces, and lawyers are offering limited services to entice clients who otherwise couldn’t afford them. Critics say it’s a cynical way to deal with the problem. Being your own lawyer is “like doing your own dental work or heart surgery,” says Judith McCormack, executive director of Downtown Legal Services, a law clinic for the poor, run by the University of Toronto’s law faculty. “It’s a desperate response.”

It’s no secret what lies at the root of that desperation. “Let’s face facts, the cost of lawyers has escalated dramatically,” says David Scott, an Ottawa lawyer and chair of Pro Bono Law Ontario. A civil trial of two days costs $25,220 in lawyers’ fees, according to Canadian Lawyer’s 2008 survey. That works out to almost half the annual median family income in Canada, and represents a rise of 21 per cent in just three years. An uncontested divorce now typically costs $1,620, up a staggering 72 per cent in three years. Hourly rates are soaring, too. In 2005, lawyers called to the bar that year charged $130 an hour, on average. Last year, it was $220.

Lawyers say this escalation simply reflects the realities of supply and demand: more people are resolving disputes in the courts, and cases are increasingly complex, so they’re charging more for their time and expertise. “The market dictates lawyers’ fees,” says Winnipeg lawyer Guy Joubert, president of the Canadian Bar Association. “I don’t think access to justice is in crisis. It’s in a constant state of movement. The system is never perfect.” If there is a problem, the government should funnel more money into legal aid programs, Joubert says.

But that attitude is at odds with mounting outrage over the price of justice, as even voices within the legal community are starting to demand change. Many people “find themselves unable, mainly for financial reasons, to access the Canadian justice system,” Beverley McLachlin, the chief justice of Canada, said in a recent speech. “Hard hit are average middle-class Canadians.” The rich can get a lawyer, and the very poor (in Ontario, typically those who make $15,000 a year or less) can get legal aid. But the vast group in-between are stuck. David Scott feels the law society (the lawyers’ self-regulating body) should study the phenomenon to see if regulatory initiatives could improve access. “The middle class cannot afford this,” he says.

Despite the stereotype, self-represented litigants aren’t just Law & Order fans with a briefcase. Today, they come from all walks of life. But as Augustine can attest, our courts simply weren’t designed to accommodate them. “We have an adversarial system of justice. It is based on having two represented litigants presenting their case to the judge,” says Alice Woolley, an assistant professor with the University of Calgary’s faculty of law. “If one is unrepresented, how can the judge decide that case fairly, and with justice?” Lawyerless litigants bog down the courts, adding expense, confusion, and delay. “It reduces [the trial] to the lowest common denominator,” says Ontario Chief Justice Warren Winkler.

Not to mention the life-changing impact it could have for an inexperienced litigant, who might end up with a criminal record or lose custody of their kids, simply because they lack the experience and understanding to properly present the case. Even the term “self-representation” is controversial among critics, who underline that litigants without a lawyer have no representation at all. They worry that, instead of being a solution to the access to justice crisis, encouraging the trend only aggravates the problem—and it’s the legal profession itself that’s driving it.

At the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto, clerks are increasingly sending the unrepresented to Law Help Ontario, a two-year pilot project launched in late 2007 to help people represent themselves in court. People can get help filling out documents and free legal advice from volunteer lawyers, who sometimes appear in court on a litigant’s behalf. In the first nine months of last year, the centre helped about 2,500 people. The province is about to embark on its first-ever civil legal needs assessment, says Lynn Burns, executive director of Pro Bono Law Ontario, which runs the centre. “Starting a centre like this, you realize how many people were falling through the cracks,” she says.

Loreto Gonzalez is one of them. After representing herself for almost three months in a lawsuit against her former lawyer, she turned to Law Help Ontario. The centre gave her the confidence, she says, to stand alone before a judge. “The legal system is a clique,” says Gonzalez, 41. “If you’re not a member of the clique, it’s hard to represent yourself.”

The first legal self-help centre opened in Vancouver in 2005. Alberta now has three such centres, with more to come. A recent report on P.E.I.’s unrepresented litigants recommended setting up a centre there, too. Diana Lowe is executive director of the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice, whose report on the trend was instrumental in designing Alberta’s self-help centres. “If someone doesn’t have a lawyer retained in the traditional sense, at least they have access to someone who can give advice,” she says.

Meanwhile, a growing number of private practice lawyers are also helping the unrepresented—for a fee. They’re offering services à la carte: as a cheaper alternative to full representation, lawyers might be hired just to help complete a document, or coach a client before he goes to court. Already popular in the U.S., “unbundled” legal services are now taking off here. Law societies in B.C. and Alberta have promoted them as an access to justice initiative, but lawyers stand to benefit, too. Sue Talia, a California-based expert on unbundled legal services, has addressed Canadian lawyers on the subject. “I tell them, ‘If you want to learn how to tap into a completely new pool of clients, listen up,’ ” she says.

Even the courts themselves are having to change the way they operate to deal with the influx of lawyerless litigants. Nova Scotia and Ontario recently announced changes aimed at streamlining the civil justice system; though Ontario’s reforms weren’t driven by the needs of the unrepresented, “they will help the unrepresented, because it will make the system work more quickly, and at a lower cost,” says Coulter Osborne, former associate chief justice of Ontario, whose report was the basis for reforms. Next year, Ontario’s small claims court (where lawyers aren’t generally necessary) will start accepting cases of up to $25,000, up from $10,000.

All this has got people in the legal community doing some serious soul-searching. In June, Jordan Furlong, editor-in-chief of the CBA’s National magazine, wrote an editorial raising the possibility that we’re headed toward a “post-lawyer justice system.”

To Alice Woolley, that’s a sad state of affairs, one that strikes a blow against one of the most fundamental rights in any democracy: access to effective justice. “People need lawyers,” Woolley says. “People may do without them, but they do so at a cost.” Parachuting in a lawyer for a short-term appearance is hardly a solution, adds Frank Addario, president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association. “A trial is a complex, dynamic event,” he says. “Lawyers can pick up and exploit any nuances. You don’t get that with piecework.”

As Ontario’s chief justice, Warren Winkler has dealt with unrepresented litigants countless times. “Anything that makes it easier for people to access the system, I say is good,” he says. However, making self-representation easier “is a band-aid approach,” he says. “It’s loaded with compromises.” In fact, Winkler sees it as the red flag of a much bigger problem. “I think our goal should be to turn the trend around: to make lawyers, and the justice system in its traditional sense, more accessible,” he says. “Then, the problem would go away.”

As for Augustine, her own legal problems did eventually go away—once she found a lawyer. After over a year of representing herself and getting nowhere, she heard about Downtown Legal Services, which provides a service akin to full representation. There, law students, under the guidance of a lawyer, worked closely with her on the file. When it was time to go to court, the supervising lawyer represented her. “She encouraged my ex’s lawyer to back down,” Augustine says. “It was a level playing field.”

A level playing field might strike most people as a basic right. Today, though, it seems increasingly reserved for the lucky, and the rich.

This is the first in a five-part series of stories on the crisis in Canada’s legal system.




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When lawyers are only for the rich

  1. I have needed legal services a few times especially in my misspent youth (better living through chemistry philosophy in the 60′s,70′s and early 80′s) each time I experienced our legal system all in all I would have to say I got very good value for the money I spent and it was well worth it. Not to mention the fact that if it wasn’t for a very good lawyer who got me into an alcohol and drug program so fast it would make your head spin and this changed my life … 19 years now I been free of booze and my life is completely different and I owe it all to a Lawyer who finally got through to me and to a Judge who made me stand for 15 minutes while he lectured me and everyone else about the nature of alcohol and how it destroys our society causing untold damage that few are willing to really take a look at … as well I think he was putting the fear of god into me while watching my legs shake as the RCMP really wanted me in jail. All in all outside of divorce lawyers – don’t even get me started on this subject – I think our legal system has a lot going for it and maybe every now and then someone should stand up and say that they are doing a fine job keep up the good work.

    • Hopefully nobody is questioning the quality of work. The concern is with people being able to afford that work.

      • As I said I got excellent value for my money and I am nowhere near rich … the money I spent on legal fess and sundry costs were well within my ability to pay .. I am sorry folks but I don’t buy it. This last time I was in the system my Lawyers fees were almost a thousand 20 years ago – hey I have spent that that on mechanics and got far less value for my money – I see nothing untoward with paying a lawyer what was mentioned above 220 an hour = are you kidding me I charge 125 an hour for my time when writing code on the side and personally think that I’m overcharging!

        • Except you didn’t actually understand the article.
          Not only is it 220 an hour, but the cases are taking longer and are more complex.

          So your $1000 case 20 years ago (which I assume was fairly simple) would probably run between 8 to 11,000 today.

    • what a shocker, a privileged white man (Guy Joubert) believes ‘there’s no issue in the accessibility of justice in our society’.

      he’s not the one that works two jobs to make rent, or knows the struggle of single mother trying to make ends meet while holding on to her kinds. When he goes to work, discrimination doesn’t following pursuit with regards to pay or how he’s treated.

      there IS an obvious discrepancy in the system and people don’t have the access they need.

      part of the problem is also that these lawyers don’t reflect the people whom they represent. Did this Guy Joubert ever have to grow up on modest means, face the harsh new immigrant experience, the racism that comes for being coloured? Likely, no, he hasn’t. He just doesn’t understand/know the differences in in accessibility for people of different backgrounds, experiences? How would he then even know that there is a problem and that he’s a big part of it?

      • I agree with you. It is not surprising that this lawyer is from Winnipeg. Small town mentallity for a city. He represents lawyers aand his fraternity. They do not want to give up this scam that defrauds honest working Canadians of their life savings. The law Society is supposed to represent the public interest. They are the safe guard that was put in place to protect the public because abuse in the system is prevelant. However if the law Society fails to protect the public interest. Who will? The law Society is a reflection of the legal system and sets the standard for lawyers. It is obvioius that their is a big problem. The Justice minister is responsible for what takes place under his stewardship. Where is the Government?

  2. My personal experiences with lawyers have really opened my eyes. I recently was called as witness on behalf of the Crown in a property dispute, and I was apalled at the lack of preparation and general knowledge the defendant’s counsel (a 60-something QC) demonstrated. I wouldn’t have paid him $20/hr for the case he presented. Makes me wonder why I didn’t go to law school….oh right, I have values.

    All in all our legal/judicial system is a joke. We have been going the rehabilitation route since Trudeau (as opposed to punishment), yet the only thing that changed was the leniency of the sentences. Shorter sentences and probation in place of serving time doesn’t rehabilitate something. People always point to Scandinavia as a model, with their low crime rates and lack of life sentences, etc., but obviously they are doing something different with the inmates that are in the system.

  3. As a lawyer practising in a small town I have seen firsthand the problems outlined in your article. In my view the dramatic increase in the cost of lawyers is attributtable to two developments in the profession. The first is the ever-increasing complexity of our legal system. Thirty years ago a simple divorce or simple will was just that, simple. Over the last three decades the legal system has become far more complex, far more technical, and far more litigious. Any lawyer who practices law the same way he or she did thirty years ago is inviting a lawsuit for negligence or censure from the Law Society.

    The other factor in the dramatic increase in legal costs is the transformation of the profession into a business. I recall reading that in 1960 the largest law firm in Canada had fifteen or so lawyers. Look at the situation now, with megafirms of dozens or even hundreds of lawyers increasingly dominating the legal profession. Graduating law students have little interest in practicing in small towns. Why earn $75,000 a year in Sudbury when you can earn $200,000 in Toronto? A culture has developed where the big law firm, and the big billable hour, is the ideal. The problem is that fancy offices and high hourly rates must be paid for somehow. Corporations can afford the bills, rich people can, but most of the middle class cannot.

    • This seems like a legit analysis, but you should probably halve both the Sudbury and Toronto salaries. It’s also worth noting that Mike Harris and Ron Daniels dealt the legal system one of the biggest blows in recent history when law school tuition in Ontario became deregulated. It costs something in the neighbourhood of $20,000 a year to go to law school in Ontario now.

    • For the most part I agree. I think the increasing complexity is systemic. There is an arms race in law which is built into the nature of being a lawyer.

      For instance, take a case like Air Canada v. Westjet. Teams of excellent lawyers doing their jobs to discover information come up with new “e-discovery” techniques to uncover all sorts of excellent ways of uncoviering information. They start giving seminars. Now everyone has heard of e-discovery and it is added to the litigator’s arsenal as a matter of course. This adds electronic documents to the increasing number of paper documents that must be reviewed by firms, and generally makes document and oral discovery take longer.

      As a lawyer you can’t refuse to use this tool, but in doing so you increase the cost of these services to your client. It’s not that you need the work; most litigators are very busy and don’t need to manufacture time entries. It’s just that the standard of competence increases.

      Where I would disagree is with your assessment of why billable rates are increasing. In other industries improvements in technology allow, for instance, manufacturers to produce more widgets per hour per square foot of factory space. Widgets can stay the same price and you still make more money ber unit.

      With lawyers, there can be no increase in the number of hours per lawyer, nor can you really increase the number of lawyers per square foot of office space (working form home is a possibility, but in my experience it is not terribly efficient). Yet as rents increase, lawyers need to increase the money received per lawyer in order to keep their incomes the same.

      To some degree technoligy probably has increased the productivity of lawyers, as they can accomplish tasks such as research or document review in a shorter period of time. However, to a great degree lawyers read and think for a living, and we can only read and think so fast. That, and all of that technology is expensive. As a result, billable rates increase at considerably faster than the rate of inflation.

      Don’t think lawyers are getting rich off ot this, either. The majority of lawyers who I see are not experiencing windfalls given the increase in the cost of inputs. The cost of any lawsuit of significance would be prohibitive for most lawyers, which is why I rarely see a lawyer I know personally involved in litigation.

      My suggestion? Increase the limits on small claims to a large number, say $100,000. It sounds like a lot, but if there are any issues of liability a client could be spending half that up front with no guarantee of recovery. Small claims courts are designed for unrepresetnted parties. Parties get their day in court, withoug having to shell out $50k and still risk getting nothing.

      For the rest, place strict limits on the amount of time that can be expended on document and oral discovery without leave of the Court. Lawyers strive for perfect information; force them to get along with imperfect information. Bring in strong sanctions to encourage parties to voluntarily produce documents to reduce the need for undertakings.

      As lawyers it is our job to look for creative tools to get an edge, which leads to increasing complexity in lawsuits. If you want to simplify actions, reduce our ability to use those tools. Since we can’t voluntarily refuse to do our best, it is up to legislators place limits upon the conduct of litigation.

  4. Clearly, the legal system is out of control. It can set it’s own fees and as in the case of SC judges – the recent increases are obscene given the economic situation.

    Complex = Yes but who but lawyers made it so? In many cases, the actual work is done by poorly paid para-legals but the client is billed for the full tariff. A simple computer driven mechanism could be introduced along with a procedure similar to that in Small Claims Court.

    This is a profession that wants independant and outside review mechanisms of other justice agencies such as the police yet really only is accountable to a Law Society, which in the case of several recent cases involving lawyers and Judges – seems to be unwilling to do anything except slap the offenders wrist.

    Worse is that the laws are made for the well off as in the case of litigation. As long as lawyers keep suing each other for libel and defamation – well so be it. When they start using libel suits as a form of CHILL of free speech (SLAPP suits) – they have then moved into an area that is most unwelcome in Canadian society.

    The governments must step in to make the legal profession part of a government service – very much like health care. Their fees and numbers must be strictly regulated.

  5. The legal profession ranks even below used car salesman and politicans in terms of trust so that must say a lot.

    When they start talking about market forces – supply and demand – they have to look at how they control the supply thus the demand and of course the price. Bar exams, provincial regulation in terms of mobility and of course, lack of price advertising or contingency agreements significantly hinder any real competition.

  6. I started seperation in 2003. 2009 still in courts. I’m Firefighter Spouse school teacher, 2 kids.
    Spouses Uncle Lawyer A. Adams Q.C. Threatened to bankrupt me and tie me up in court for years.
    A. Adams is member of “The Masons” Judge Ring also a member and presiding over case.
    Judge Carr over 20 case conferances to divide marital assets of property and loans.
    1- Collaborative Contract Lawyers (R. Hercus founder of Collaborative Law in MB.) broke and set court dates, did not resign. Later disclosed Mr. Adams had offered both counsels jobs with his Law firm. My bill for 8 weeks of Collaborative was $12,000.00 Lawyer B.Toews 4 years later filed claim in court for additional $7500.00. No legal work or value for me done.
    2- New counsel J.Cooper said will cost $20,000.00 for trial to settle. 2 years later billed $12,000.00 then withdrew.
    3- Hired J. King. Claimed $10,000.00 to finalize. 2 years later billed $55,000.00 and withdrew claiming cannot represent me in court because I owe him too much. Billed to prepare for court, then withdraws after billing and no value to me.

    Judge Ruth Krindle (Arbitrator for Manitoba Hydro Land Claims) Tells me Family Law is a scam. Lawyer use useless correspondance to escalate legal bill then get clients to settle by agreement so they do not have to do real work and prepare for court. They financelly drain clients so that clients have no legal representation.

    To date billed $80,000.00 More than asset value that is being contested. Children’s future is gone.

    Lawyers are collegues together with judges in legal fraternity. Law Society is not protecting the public. The lawyers have created a system to steal clients assets. Government has failed to protect public interest. Legal system totally corrupt by collegues. Family law is not complicated. Yet costs axceed crimanal court for innocent people attempting to aquire their own assets, Lose them to the Lawyers. Family life savings are transfered to lawyers hired to protect these asseets. Conflict of interest. Lawyers have failed to comply to their own code of conduct. Law Society will not enforce their own guidlines.

    • Out of this article series should come an introduction to Pre-Paid Legal Services. Why won’t the press give this “revolutionary” company wide-spread coverage? It just makes so much sense for the average Canadian to be able to access the legal system without “breaking the bank”! What a change of tune…top-rated lawyers who are made accountable for their actions, working for the clients as required by their contract with PPLSI.

      • What is prepaid legal services? How do i get it?
        George

        • Please contact me if you need help.

        • George, I can help you to get Prepaid legal services. Either email me or call me at 204 8764653.

          Thanks.

        • Hello

          This is exactly why Pre-Paid Legal Services was started 37 years ago by Harland C Stonechipher.
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    • Hello there in legal wonderland …
      How well I understand and sympathize with you…
      Been there done that – until ! -I fired my lawyer and represented myslef
      I accomplished what my 2 lawyers and 5 years of courts could nto do .

      When I appeared in court unrepresnted ,the first thing I said to my wife’s lawyer when next I saw him in court .. I called him aside and said
      ” You are an ambulance chaser ! You feed from the anguish of others. That you are lawyer – you do nto impress me nor do I fear you – to me your a dirt bag and nothing else. ( because he manipulated my ex for $1000s of fees and used the divide and conquer method).
      if you breath wrong with me and or I feel that you are intimidating me and or if I feel that you are manipulating me and the system and or if you do anything against the Law Society rules I ( along with 3 other of my family) will file a mountian of complaints to the Law Society that I will keep you in paper work for the next 10 years !
      Further ! You can bill my ex all you want – when you come try to come to me for your (her’s) legal fees I will declare bankruptcy ! You will not ever receive1 f..k.ing cent from me .
      I will be relentless – UNDERSTAND ! And if you give me a wrong response when we get in the court room I will tell the judge you tried to intimidate me becuase I am unrepresented!-
      I will drown you in paper and will ntorelent until you lose your licence ! Capish ! -Try me !. ”

      Sorry there -lol… ! but I had to fight fire with fire .

      Suddenly the lawyer dropped his idiot like smile that he used have when he saw me in the courtrooms and or corridors .
      He gulped quitely – and nodded “I understand”.

      My legal threat of causing him immense loss of time in repsonding to my complaints to the LS worked . Every time one files a complaint the lawyer has to respond to the LS and on and on it oges . You could tie one up for years burning the mid oil responding to lengthycomplaints.
      I understood that his time in respondign to complaints = money – his personal money .- It worked.

      I presented myslef to the judge as an unrepresented litigant as I could no longer afford a lawyer and that I have lost confidence with lawyers but still remain stead fast loyal to the Justice System and Fairness.
      - I was not rude or arrogant ( and I tried -not to be emotional.) I did not try to be a lawyer – I spoke in an ordinary non legalise fashion.
      I explained the dilema to the judge …
      1. That I have not ever made an issue of my Child Support . I support and love my children as per the evidence he had in frontof him.

      2. That the issue was a quantum of the Matrimonial assets that now my ex has spent $1000′s on tryng to get something that does not exist anymore due to losses and the divorce proceedings.

      3. I explained and presented evidence that I tried to settle with her ( her lawyer) numerous times – but she ( her lawyer) declined the offers.

      To my surprise the judge was polite , understanding ( to both my ex and I ) – he was also kind.
      After 2 appearnaces in front of him we got into the fact that my ex wanted proceeds from that very business I had 10 years earlier that had since gone bankrupt 6 years earlier -due to the divorce.
      And further that I had made offers of settlement . The judge also gave a look of disaproval to my ex’ lawyer.
      In short the judge explained to me that his hands were tied and that he had to award my ex ( or any other person) 50% of the assets accrued when married.
      The lawyer asked for backdate interest on the money I owed my ex re this lost asset I had.
      The Judge looked at me and in a qausi comical manner sid to me .. “well Mr. ….., it appears that Ms. isaksing for interest . What is your psotion on this ?
      I replied , ( knowing that the judge knew I had no more funds and in the verge of personal bankruptcy if I was pushed to it ) – Your honour – My ex – Ms. .. refused to settle when I had some funds to give her – but we find ours selves in frotn of you today on this very issue.
      In regards the interest, I am in your Honour’s hands .
      In conclusion , my divorce was granted – my access to my children was given to me “free ad liberal access with reasonable notice” and then he ordered that he will decide on the interest and send the results with the final Order.

      IN his final order – he reiterated his decisons , to grant the Divorce, the free and liberal acces and then he granted 1/2 the matrimonial assets to my ex … But ! what the wise judge did is that on the line where the amount of interest had to be written in by him – he left t blank ! ( to say – 0 interest).

      In addition , he orderd tha my ex pay her lawyer fees.
      My ex would up no tpaying him – my ex taxed his fees and compplained to the LSUC –
      The lawyer got 20% of his fees.
      My ex and I became quasi amicable after the divorce. I thinjk she found a new admiration for me when I presented my self in court and made minced meat out of her lawyer who studied for 20 years and I was delivering croceries with my bike when I was young as could not afford continued education.
      However, I received a MBA in street smarts and standign up for myself.

      This was a judge to remember and I pray for him everyday . He is retired now.
      Perhaps it was his way of saying – all men are not as evil as they are made to be by the ex ‘sand their lawyers .

      My advice to you ? Remember – you are not a court docket number , you are a human being.
      You are your lawyers’ boss and you should fire him when he leads you the wrong way.
      Stand up to scum bag lawyers ambulance chasers ( when they appear and presnt themsleves that way .)Not all lawyers are scum bags – there is a great minority -(49% ) of good , decent and honest lawyers who will get he job done for you asap).

      Finally , fire your lawyer , present yourself to the judge and speak to him/her as a human being –
      Judges are human , most of them are highly intellegent and sensitive human beings , they understand that Justice also means compassion and fairness – despite the smoke screens greedy lawyers put up – the judges see through the lawyer’s bull manure .
      And most importantly – you can say things that a lawyer cannot – you know why ? You are expected to be a lawyer -you are a citizen and thejudge has to give you more lee way than he does a lawyer.
      Do not trust the lawyer. Trust the judge and our Justice system.

      Some Judges will suprise you as to what they can do if you give them the opportunity to do so.

      • Anyone reading this who feels like following the example outlined here I have a word of advice – Don’t.

        Trust me.

  7. Found this to be a wonderful article and a complete description of what I have found.I can not afford a lawyer, do not qualify for legal aid and legal aid does not cover my charges and our court has no duty counsel. When legal clinics are contacted they are not able to deal with my case. I applied for a renovation permit in 2006 from my municipality and still do not have one. I do have a stop work order, an order to comply, 2 search warrants and now 5 provincial offences all for renovating. I will have to represent myself in court and have never had to do this before and have no experience and can find no help. It is frustrating and scarry. Not sure if I can do it but have to. It is time consuming, confusing, frustrating and it takes over your life. It has cost me my business, my personal life and soon I will lose my home. More lawyers should be helping people, the goverment should be making changes and something needs to be done.I will not get the representation I need and the opposing council knows this. How fair is that?

    • You definitely need a Pre-Paid Legal membership, giving you access to counsel and so much more.
      Click on Justice for all and we can talk!

    • As a follow up to my comments, I thank all that have made comments and tried to help. Some who have emailed have forgotten to give me an email address to reply. Have checked out pre paid legal and for some this is a wonderful idea. In my case it is not. My case involves alot more than I stated and will include furture litigation and a large lawsuit. To indepth for a regular person to do and it will require a lawyer who is educated in doing this. It has now been almost 4 years and it does become draining, and I know I am not the only one in my area who is being forced to defend themselves. This just does not seem right to me. We have the constitutional right to have representation. But I have found that the lawyers I have approached can pick and chose which cases they want to take and in one case deciding on whether to take the case based on the amount of work required. Seems that the legal profession has the everyday person by the ( insert your own word). Does seem that legal representation is only for the rich. Thank you in advance for anyone who can help me

  8. Aboslutely, there needs to be more recognition of Pre-Paid Legal Services. I have access to my Law Firm. It has been a real success story from the start. We all need fair access to legal. This revolutionary company can really help alot of people to get access to their rights!!!

    • I signed up for pre-paid legal almost a year ago. The advice and information from the BC and the Alberta pre-paid legal has been excellent and I recommend it.

  9. If you are really interested in getting fair accesss to the legal system and having access to your rights. Let me know, i can help!!!

  10. Pre-paid legal services have their place (and their salespeople, apparently!) and many of the suggestions above have some merit. But everything has its downside, as well. if this problem were easy or inexpensive to solve, it would have been fixed by now.

    • As you said: “Hopefully nobody is questioning the quality of work. The concern is with people being able to afford that work.”
      It is a question of affordability, the access to counsel is a given. However, as you stated, we have no idea of the complexity of the issue at hand.

    • Hi Mike…you’re very right about that….it’s not an easy fix.
      Basically, we’re asking lawyers to take a pay cut…hmmm?
      That’s like going backwards and usually doesn’t work…well.
      Sooo….maybe we need some kind of ‘legal insurance’?
      Maybe it’s time we all have a lawyer…just to keep it fair…
      It is supposed to be fair, the legal system I mean…right?

  11. Legal billing is a scam. Lawyer can charge what they want. Not a problem. However they should be legislated to provide a written estimate for what they are being hired for. It seams stupid to hiore a lawyer to divide your assets in divorce when his legal bill will be greater than your asset. My lawyera all gave me verbal costs. I hired them to represent me because of thier estimate. Reality they all exceed their estimates by 500% this is not acceptable. I had B. Toews lawyer in winnipeg who 4 years later took me to court claiming I owed him another $7500.00. Mr Toews was hired to represent me Collaborativly and told me It would cost $3,000.00 to settle I haaired him. He billed me $5,000.00, broke the collaborative contract and was corresponding with my formewr spouse uncle. A. Adams also a lawyer that offered Mr. Toews a job with his firm. I had less than a week to find and hire a new lawyer to represent me in court for Child Custody. This lawyer charged me $3,000.00 for custody trial (seamed resonable) Why is it that other lawyer charge 10 x this amount for a custody trial? Mr toews lied in court produced false documents and I had witness that ddisproved Mr. Toews claim. His claim was dismisseded. Mr. Toews appealed. Again dismissed. However Mr. Toews Lied and had nothing to lose for falsly trying to extort $7500.00 from me 4 years after he had been paid and turned my file over to another lawyer. The Law Society of Mb. has not investigated any of my claims against lawyers. Even after I have submitte documentation. The courts are sympathic to thier own. This is not about high cost as much as abuse foir what lawyers claim they do aand how they manipiulate clients to extort money under false cost agreements. Every other profession gives estimates and billing is based on their estimate. Imagine if a contractor gives you a cost to buid a house than exceeds this by 300 – 500%. The government needs to inform the public of the legal process and explain the forms need and how to file so we can defend ouselves fairly.

  12. I sat in on a trial (rather, a request for a restraining order) in BC this time last year. The defendant (if that’s the right term) was representing herself and I was impressed at how the judge explained the process to her, asked follow-up questions if she missed an important point, etc. The woman in question could not have afforded counsel. I didn’t stick around to hear the verdict, but I came away with a sense that no one was running circles around anyone and that the judgment would be based on the facts as determined.

    There’s a solution out there for the problem of lawyers’ fees, of course, and that is: make the legal profession like the medical profession in this country.

    • I agree on about the system taking care of you. Here’s what I wrote in my “Thin Skull Blog” on my new site:

      Do we need more lawyers or should we all be lawyers?

      Tue Feb 3, 2009

      This week’s Maclean’s says that there is a lack of lawyers in this country, apparently due to the limited number of seats available in Canadian law schools–we’re not graduating enough law students each year to keep up with our growing population. That may be the case, but with our complex legal system don’t we all need to be lawyers?
      When I sat in law school, particularly in my first year, I remember thinking how I was receiving an education that all Canadians should have. It’s an education that is necessary in our complex legal system–a system designed to operate with lawyers; created by lawyers. In school I was uncomfortable knowing that the legal system, which is so incomprehensible for most people, creates barriers between those who have the information and those that don’t – it creates an uncomfortable and unnecessary elitist divide. Why should only lawyers know this stuff? What about the rest of us? Shouldn’t we all know what our rights are under the law? Shouldn’t we all know how to represent ourselves in a legal system under which we must all live?
      Someone might reply that life’s not fair (one of my lines), that’s just the way it goes, should everyone be doctors then? Yet the law isn’t like other professions–the law permeates every aspect of our lives. Everyone needs to know the basics of the law to survive in our legal system, yet you don’t need to know the basics of medicine to survive in the health care system–it takes care of you, with or without your own doctor. As it stands now, people not only need a lawyer to explain the law to them, they need a lawyer to protect them from the injustices of the system.
      Just think about that for a minute or two–we all must adhere to the law but only a select group of people is allowed to be educated about it–those that are accepted into the law schools each year. Does that seem right? Instead of creating a few more spots in the law schools how about getting a real legal education into all the schools? Or better yet, how about changing the legal system so that we don’t need a lawyer to inform and protect us?

      Nancy Kinney B.A., LL.B
      Founder of AdviceScene.com
      Democratizing the Law One Question at a Time

  13. We have a Answer. For a small Monthly fee. All areas of the Legal System

  14. A Lawyerless Society or More Lawyers?

    Fri Feb 6, 2009

    Do we need more lawyers to help us navigate through the legal system? Do we need to educate and inform the population better so that people can better represent themselves when they need to? Or do we need a legal system in which you don’t need a lawyer–a “lawyerless society”?
    Our first option is to create more lawyers and keep our complex legal system as it is. Not a bad choice if you want nothing to change. Our second option is to make everyone a lawyer. Not a bad choice either–it would certainly minimize the elitist divide that exists now. But how would police forces cope with an informed public? How would municipalities, provincial and federal governments act if people had enough knowledge of the law to negotiate their way through the regulatory and tax systems – like lawyers? Now there’s a scary thought – informed citizens acting like lawyers, refusing to get pushed around, asking questions, making informed decisions. The ‘real’ lawyers, especially those in charge, would have to create a system that was even more incomprehensible than it is now, creating the need for ‘superlawyers’ with an elite education. Our third option is to change the system so that you don’t have to be a lawyer to understand the law. Now there’s a radical thought for you! Imagine that, a legal system that took care of you so that you didn’t need to hire an expert to protect you. Perhaps we do need more lawyers. They could help educate the public so that people could represent themselves successfully. And they could also help transform our complex legal system into one that people could understand.

    Nancy Kinney B.A., LL.B
    Founder of AdviceScene.com
    Democratizing the Law One Question at a Time

  15. I have to do a debate. I have to argue against, i repeat against this statement. I am almost in tears cause I can not find anything to argue, everything seems to point in the opposite direction. Here is the statement.

    Discrimination in the Canadian Court and Corrections is a very real problem.

    Anyone at all who can at least point me in some direction as where to go with this. I just do not even know how or where to begin to argue this statement.

  16. Discrimination in the Canadian Court System and corrections is a very real problem. Correction on my debate statement.
    thanks

  17. I have been involved with the legal system in Manitoba for 6 years. When I became seriously ill, my husband left me and our three children, pushed us out into a small apartment, took every bit of cash out of our joint bank accounts and did not pay spousal or child support. I have not received one penny from this man as he has hired a "man's" lawyer that is really good at stalling and stalling…….forever. Prior to becoming ill I was the major income in the household, now that I am disabled, my income does not even come near what I earned before. My husband is able bodied earns a good income and has the opportunity to earn extra income if he desires to do so. i do not. Since he took any capital we did have and transferred it to a personal account I am left with my disability income to pay for a lawyer. Since I am not rich I am at a disadvantage. I do not have the money to pay the fees required to claim back spousal, child, and capital that he has stolen from me. This is discrimination at it's finest, not only against women but against persons with disabilities.

  18. Hi, when my husband and I separated 3 years ago we each got our own lawyers and put on paper what we wanted. My lawyer put down that I would be the beneficiary of my husbands OMERS Pension Plan. But my lawyer did not do his homework!!!!! He neglected to ensure the rules about Pension Plans. OMERS will not honor that in my agreement because you only qualify to be the beneficiary of a Pension if you are with the individual at the time of his collecting the Pension. In addition to which my lawyer left out a lot of important clauses, such as, if my husband was to pass away prior to retiring then my share of the pension would be locked into an RRSP of my choice. I paid for the LAWYER"S services and he did not bother to do his job. When I contacted the LAW SOCIETY … they back their LAWYERS, they will not support YOU!

  19. "Dealing with pro se litigants can be very frustrating, time consuming, and costly because of the extra work that is usually involved in the process," says an attorney DanielR with the law firm of MANSFIELD & TANICK, P.A., who has successfully been involved in litigation against pro se litigants. I wonder if some people wanted to be their own doctors, would it be possible?

  20. Not more lawyers, just control of the unethical ones. I wouldn’t have minded paying the contingency fee if the disability lawyer had done a lot of work for me. But after several years (of sleepless nights for me) we ended up in mediation, and still didn’t have two thirds of the medical records, some of which I found out later had been ordered the week before. We were completely unprepared for a major issue brought up by the insurance company, and he tried to blame the insurance company lawyer for not preparing us. Looking back, it was nothing but delays and lame excuses. Comments the paralegal made during the mediation were unbelievably ignorant. I know there are lawyers with integrity and scruples, and they make our society better, but sometimes you don’t know for sure until its too late. This lawyer is not to be trusted ~ and he does a lot of public speaking in the lower mainland and in Vancouver. Trust your intuition and don’t believe the smarm. I gave him the benefit of the doubt too many times. He is the kind of lawyer that makes the others look bad.

  21. In my view the real problem start with law schools. They keep charging more and more but providing less and less education. Law school doesn’t prepare you for anything other than working for someone else. The days of being able to hang out your own shingle after law school are over.

  22. Every single consultation exercise that I have read or responded to has been about reducing funding or reducing costs. Most if not all of them have had a majority opinion that such changes should not go ahead i.e. scrapping a law or increasing costs, government don’t seem to care much about the responding opinion and go ahead anyway.

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