The Change & Advocacy Blog: How We Each Can Do Our Bit

The Change & Advocacy Blog: How We Each Can Do Our Bit

We were honored by the award of another CLAWBIE for this blog at the end of 2016 in a new category called “Change & Advocacy. The new Clawbie category recognizes “blogs that drive positive change in the legal system.”

I will face some challenges to my scholarship and activism in the coming months, as I go back into treatment for cancer.

So this blog post is about how we can each find the motivation and the means to do our bit for driving positive change in the legal system.

Dig Deep

Some of us advocating for change have been at it for a long, long time.  We often feel frustrated at the glacial pace of change, and alarmed at the strong resistance to a client-focused system of legal services.

It’s easy to get disillusioned, and to stop believing that each of us can make a difference. We sometimes need to dig deep to draw on our inherent optimism, and to remind ourselves that changing the legal system for the better is a big goal that reflects our belief in creating a more just world – in other words, it is crucial for how we make meaning in our lives.

But sometimes – with many other life demands on us – it’s hard to find the energy. I may have some practical challenges in this respect in the coming months. However, notoriously annoying energy bunny that I am, I recognize that diminished energy – any energy – is still effective if it is focused and channeled towards a purpose.

We Each Have Power

Each one of us can contribute to positive change in the legal system, whether you are a lawyer, justice sector worker, law student, or a member of the public. The first step is picking a goal for yourself, one that will also inspire you and motivate you on the bad days.

Sure, it needs to be realistic – it can’t be changing the foundations of the entire system single-handedly. There are many others in this endeavor, and your piece is part of a team. But your goal should inspire you and feel personally important enough to keep you motivated, engaged and committed through the difficult conversations, the setbacks, and the days when you feel a lot less than powerful.  Such times are inevitable.

Because while there are power differentials built into “the system”– admittedly, my voice is not as powerful as a Supreme Court of Canada judge, or the Minister of Justice – none of us is actually powerless here. We can all contribute some forward momentum toward changing the old ways. All the more so in 2017 than in the past – social media has dramatically changed the way that we connect around Access to Justice issues and highlights both progress being made, and the many inequalities that still exist.

Pick Your Goal

Goals that you could set and meet before the end of 2017 could include:

  • If you offer legal services, try offering unbundled or coaching services at less than your regular hourly rate – join one of the emerging lists of lawyers offering such services to the primarily self-represented – take a course or webinar on unbundling or coaching in order to learn more. If your practice is primarily corporate, you can still make it a goal to inform yourself about these important new personal service models so that you can discuss them with colleagues and offer an opinion.
  • Consider running for election in your favorite professional organization – whether that is the OBA, the CBA, O-AFCC, or even the LSUC as a Bencher – so that you can promote professional education, policies and contributions to the Access to Justice debate that push positive change and are willing to take on self-interest, protectionism and the entrenched elitism that rejects public input. We know from experience that professional leaders can make a big difference. Perhaps you can be one of these insiders who pave the way for the outsiders.
  • Lobby your local bar association and/or your elected representative. The public has thousands of stories to tell about the hardships faced by those navigating the justice system alone and with less help than they really need. Write – politely – to the President of your local bar association and ask to come to an Executive meeting and put Access to Justice on the agenda. You could consider doing this as a team of two or three individuals (for moral support!). Explain that you want to work with local lawyers to give them a better understanding of the struggles of SRLs, and the need to find solutions. Copy your correspondence to your local elected (provincial, federal) representative.
  • If you teach at a law school, add a unit to your curriculum on Access to Justice, SRLs and new emerging models of practice to meet their needs. With very few exceptions, this is relevant no matter what you teach.
  • If you are a law student, go to your Dean and ask for more material to be included in relevant courses on the Access to Justice crisis, and how you can prepare to work with the primarily self-represented. Suggest a course on unbundling and legal coaching. Propose that your law school participate in SRL Awareness Day.

Then Speak About It

Whatever your goal, don’t be shy about it. Talk about it to colleagues and friends and neighbours and fellow students. Post on your social media. Accept that some people will find you annoying – advocacy for change is not a popularity contest.

Tell the NSRLP what you are doing. We can offer support, resources, publicity through our own social media, and much more.

Changing the Conversation: Fundamentally and Permanently

We each have the power to change how the legal system understands and responds to the challenge of Access to Justice, and to the explosion in the number of SRLs. This conversation has begun to change, but we cannot be satisfied with superficial nods to A2J, new reports (however good) and good intentions.

The forces that will resist change are still as strong as ever (witness the Ontario legal establishment’s shamefully self-interested responses to the Bonkalo Review proposals).

We need to aim for a New Normal:

  • Where the attitude that clients are a pain who “get in the way” of our “real work” (and the self-represented even more so) is no longer acceptable. This includes making snide jokes about the stupidity of both groups.
  • Where law is recognized as an essential public service, and pure self-interest is neither encouraged nor professionally acceptable.
  • Where law schools accept their responsibility to educate future lawyers using contemporary, client-focused content and skills, and not the glorified adversarial habits of the past.
  • Where professing a commitment to equalizing Access to Justice resources is seen as mainstream, honorable, and a sign of awareness of the most important question facing the legal system.

Let’s get to work. See you later.



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Comments (9)

  • Marnie Landon

    I am very sorry to hear Julie must endure more cancer treatment. Our thoughts and prayers are with her. I am a SRL and the NSRLP has been a wonderful source of information and inspiration to me. I appreciate Julie’s leadership and efforts and wish her courage and a speedy return to full energy and health. May you be surrounded by caring and positive people!

    July 4, 2017 at 2:54 pm
  • Koba

    Hello Julie!

    I wish you all the best on your treatment!

    Yourself, you are a strong inspiration and motivation to many others on SLR advocacy work.

    You have been very kind to provide directions (mentorship) to legal professionals and students.

    I wonder what you think the SLRs can do to promote SRL’s access to justice.


    July 4, 2017 at 4:10 pm
  • Cynthia Eagan

    Sending my best wishes to you, Julie.

    Learning about your research, and getting to know you a little bit–both have been life-affirming additions to my life.

    *Positive vibrations*!!! (Cue Bob Marley)

    July 4, 2017 at 4:17 pm
  • Jeff Rose-Martland

    I’ve been operating in a vacuum as an SRL here in Newfoundland for the past couple years, spending most of my free time trying to get up to speed on process, Rules, and the legal system. However, I have been advocating for veterans since 2010, and, consequently, know much more about advocacy than I do about law. From a viewpoint of an SRL, I’ve had a few ideas about changes, but I’m missing info on whether these ideas are new, in process, or even feasible. I’ll throw them out here for others to comment on:

    1 – Lobby Thompson-Reuters Westlaw and LexisNexis Quicklaw for free or low-cost subscription for SRLs. [The chief objection by those services would be financial, ie, What would prevent lawyers from masquerading as SRLs (or having admin staff do so) in order to obtain what would normally be an expensive service. My response is that it would be easy from them to monitor the frequency of access and site traffic; SRLs shouldn’t generate much. A good business model for this would be other online services, such as anti-virus programs, which offer a free-for-home-use option. I may be mistaken, as I’ve only used CanLii, but I believe Westlaw and Quicklaw searches all filings, where CanLii only gives decisions. It would be very useful for SRLs to be able to view examples of the various documents.

    2 – Further to that, lobby CanLii (Or NSRLP) to fund and develop filings examples and how-to guides. While there are some good sources for some things online, there is no go-to source, and/or the examples are written for people with existing legal training, and therefore, inaccessible to many SRLs. (Perhaps the various bar associations or Parliament would assist with funding.)

    3 – This may be controversial, but several lawyers I’ve spoken with online have supported this idea: a National Legal-care program; medicare model, but for legal services. Many SRLs I am aware of are in situations where their rights have been violated (intellectual property, Charter, etc) and cannot afford to pursue action. This is especially true for members of marginalized groups. For example, people whose human rights have been violated but legal aid isn’t available to pursue such cases. Or civil actions against the Crown over Charter Rights where, again, legal aid isn’t available because “we don’t do civil suits” and “we cannot be seen to be suing Government. I have also learned that Criminal Defence often isn’t pursued by law students because the salary – mostly legal aid certificates – is so low. I’ve been told (I assume correctly) that lawyers are drawn to the more lucrative fields of personal injury/property and corporate, resulting in fewer lawyers available to assist even if the clients have funds. Given the crisis in the Court system resulting in/from the Jordan Decision, I think there may be an opportunity to propose Legalcare as a viable solution. Such a system could be financially supported by levies on Costs and fees, whereby the lucrative side of the legal system would support the less lucrative, but more vital, areas – areas where SRL numbers are so high.

    I welcome everyone’s comments.


    (P.S. for Julie – You also have my wishes for a speedy recovery, and my deepest thanks, as an SRL and an advocate, for the work you have done. NSRLP appeared on CBC in one of my darkest periods and you offered me hope that I could continue to fight, rather than concede for lack of representation.)

    July 4, 2017 at 7:52 pm
  • allen

    This too shall pass. You will be in or thoughts all the way

    July 5, 2017 at 1:37 am
  • Twechar

    Hi Julie
    I am sorry to hear about the return of your Cancer I honestly did not know about this.
    I too am still fighting Cancer and if I had given any attention to “prognosticators” I ought to be dead by now. Attitude is they key it’s been going on for six (6) years now and my oncologist tells me that I am the “poster child” for the targeted therapy called “pazopanib” it’s basically high doses of Kemp in pill form.

    It only works on certain Cancers so I am not saying that this would work for you but the knowledge of it cannot do you any harm to know of it.

    I am more concerned about the rampant injustice within the Alberta Judiciary than I am about my Cancer. I.E. I lose more sleep over the wrongs within the Justice or should I say the injustice system than I do about my Cancer.

    Maybe the inner anger going on eleven (11) years of witnessing blatant judicial bias with hard transcript evidence has been good therapy in keeping me alive along with the hope and desire to make things right.

    I admire you so much with the strength and your courage to speak truth to power.

    You beat Cancer once and you’ll beat it again. You know who I am and for personal reasons due to my ongoing case I will not sign my name.

    I am working on producing a documentary on my devastating experience in the Alberta Judiciary where a large portion of Justices are involved in collusion.

    My main goal now is keeping at it with the documented facts so as not to be categorized with the bad Judges favorite and over used outs of: “vexatious litigants and an abuse of process” I have the unretractible facts of truth on the face of the record and the judicial abuses inflicted upon SRL’S to my mind are a worse Cancer in its own right.

    I hope these comments are not too sensitive to meet the posting criteria, but if they are I will understand. Once again I am extremely sorry about your Cancer.

    July 5, 2017 at 5:59 am
  • Susan and Gordana

    Hi Julie,

    We appreciate the important work you’re doing on behalf of SRLs and your tireless advocacy for common sense reforms in the judicial system. Sending you stregth and courage in your upcoming challenges and looking forward to hearing your dynamic voice in this arena again very soon!

    Susan and Gordana
    Court Assist

    July 6, 2017 at 11:21 am
  • Barb

    Sending strengthening thoughts to you Julie as you face these next months. I am truly grateful to you for all of your work on behalf of those who feel overwhelmed by the court system. with thanks

    July 6, 2017 at 5:23 pm
  • Cathy

    Dear Julie,
    What an inspiring article and call to action. I’ll forward it widely as always.

    My thoughts are with you and your work and your health. I want to say that you’ve inspired me my whole career. Through youth Justice, family justice and workplace Justice… You continue to be an innovator and a mentor to all of us.

    We’ll all be cheering you on through this next challenge as well. Sending warm thoughts and best regards, Cathy

    July 9, 2017 at 9:11 am

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