The Lawyer as “Coach”: Legal Assistance for the Primarily Self-Represented
The NSRLP is dedicated to continuing to spread awareness about and encourage participation in legal coaching by both self-represented litigants and legal professionals. The term “coaching” came directly from our 2013 National SRL Study (see the Executive Summary and pp80-81 in the Final Report). This was how many SRLs described what they wanted – someone to guide them and review their steps through the legal system.
What is “legal coaching”?
Many lawyers are familiar with the concept of unbundling, also known as limited scope representation, a practical, innovative response to the access to justice problem. Allowing lawyers and clients to unbundle the various components of a legal matter has been shown to increase access and improve outcomes for those litigants who are able to purchase at least some legal services.
Legal “coaching” is the next natural step in the evolution of the unbundling model, building on the needs articulated by SRLs in the National 2013 study. Virtually every SRL interviewed said they had looked (usually without success) for affordable “unbundled” services – but they also told us what they really wanted was someone in their corner who could provide ongoing support and assistance at key moments in their case. They also described wanting to be an active participant in that relationship (a common theme in professional relationships in many professional areas in the age of the Internet).
Both unbundling and coaching provide clients with an opportunity to choose from an à la carte menu of legal services. However, coaching offers those who are primarily self-representing some very practical advantages that SRLs tell us they want:
- Coaching assumes an ongoing relationship between the lawyer and client. The legal coach provides more than one-off assistance with discrete tasks, and instead offers ongoing guidance and mentorship throughout the case.
- Unlike the unbundling lawyer, the legal coach won’t necessarily take charge of every discrete task on her own. The legal coach and the client will roll up their sleeves together, reducing costs even further while at the same time building the client’s capacity to take the next step. By working hand in hand with the lawyer on her case, the client will be better positioned to understand the theory of her case and how to achieve the outcome she’s looking for. Coaching tasks will vary depending on the needs of the client, the client’s capacity to take on different pieces of the work, and/or the budget available. On any one case a coach might offer advice, draft parts of a document, review the client’s work and offer feedback, or even appear in court.
- Coaching is a partnership, allowing the lawyer and client to work as a team. The legal coach will be called upon to train, guide and mentor the client, without losing sight of the client’s own expertise. The goal of the legal coach is to maximize the client’s potential to take the next step by themselves. Successful legal coaches will be skilled in building trusting relationships with clients, flexible in adapting to different clients’ levels of ability and need, and prepared to modify the scope of the retainer as the case unfolds.
What is the NSRLP doing to promote legal coaching?
We have a number of ongoing projects to promote and expand the use of legal coaching.
The NSRLP will continue to update our National Directory of Professionals, where lawyers, paralegals and others who offer services to SRLs can indicate that they provide legal coaching services (or more traditional forms of unbundling) to clients.
We have featured some SRL experiences with coaching in the NSRLP blog and will continue to SRLs to continue to share their experiences with legal coaching with us. If you have had an experience – good or bad – with legal coaching, please share that with us! We want to learn more about how this model of assistance might be modified for the maximum benefit of the primarily self-represented.
In the Fall of 2017 Windsor Law launched a for-credit legal coaching class with the assistance of the NSRLP. The class matched SRLs with student coaches for assistance throughout the semester. You can read more about the coaching class on the NSRLP website: https://representingyourselfcanada.com/windsor-law-to-offer-for-credit-srl-coaching-course/ and in Precedent magazine: http://lawandstyle.ca/law/on-the-record-can-a-new-course-on-legal-coaching-solve-the-access-to-justice-crisis/.
In 2017 the Law Foundation of Ontario and Windsor Law funded Nikki Gershbain to develop a model of legal coaching training workshops for lawyers. NSRLP continues to offer legal coaching workshops – for example, https://representingyourselfcanada.com/nova-scotia-barristers-society-exploring-a-legal-coaching-model/ – and we hope to see increasing interest in this area of professional development among members of the Bar.
Finally, the NSRLP is hoping to secure the necessary funding to organize and run a public information campaign on legal coaching later this year. We believe that the next step in expanding legal coaching is to provide better information to a wider public about the possibility of working with a lawyer (or a paralegal or a law student) in this way.