Technology in Family Law and Self-Representing Litigants: Joel Miller Interview
How is technology advancing access to justice? Do you need a lawyer to present a strong case in the courtroom? How can self-represented litigants access legal support without hiring full suite lawyers?
We tackle these questions and more with The Divorce Coach himself, Joel Miller.
A 2016 study from Ryerson University's Legal Innovation Zone reveals that between 50 and 80% of individuals involved in applications under either the Family Law Act, the Children’s Law Reform Act or the Divorce Act were self-represented. This number reveals an unprecedented ratio of self-represented litigants to lawyers in the courtroom, and Joel Miller is dedicated to creating equal opportunities for these individuals.
What is self-represented litigation?
Before heading to the courtroom, you must decide whether you’ll hire a lawyer to represent you, or if you’ll speak for yourself in front of the judge. Both options have their merit, as Joel points out. Lawyers have studied and thoroughly understand the legal procedure you’re involved in. They have the ability to manage your entire case, easing the burden on you. Should you decide to self-represent, you’ll have a greater work load ahead of you in terms of document organization and presentation in the courtroom. However, legal fees involved in hiring a lawyer lead many to self-represent. You’ll want to be well prepared for your case - mistakes during any part of the proceeding can result in rather pricey long-term consequences.
The Loom Analytics Study of 2016 finds that that of cases won under family law, 73% of successful parties were represented by lawyers. Only 14% of cases were won by self-represented litigants, and the remaining 13% of cases ended with split decisions or no orders. Seeing this increasing group of self-represented litigants, Joel wondered; "How can we, as lawyers, provide support to level the playing field in the courtroom?".
Can self-represented litigants present their cases competently, even against a represented party?
YES. Joel reminds us that just because someone is a lawyer, doesn't mean they're comfortable acting in court. Many of the necessary skills for in-courtroom lawyers can be honed by self-reps, such as preparation, organization, presentation skills, document assembly, confidence and professional dress. In some ways, you even have an advantage: you have a first-hand account of your case and can speak to it with sincerity and honesty. Knowing how to present a persuasive argument and knowing what the judge needs to hear is critical to your case's success.
What role does technology have in the legal process?
Historically, lawyers have relied on technology to make their practise more efficient. Recently, the government has digitized many of their services and forms, bringing the legal process closer to citizens.
However, lawyers continue to prioritize lengthy in-person meetings to advise their clients. Joel has noticed some trends in the market, and believes there is a new opportunity for technology to impact this archaic process. From a consumer view-point, Joel acknowledges that people undergoing the family law process need legal services at their convenience: be that remote assistance, after hours consultations, or fixed fees. Joel also sees an opportunity for citizens to acquire legal assistance more affordably, without committing to a long-term lawyer-client relationship. After many years practicing family law, Joel believes the industry is ready for, and in need of, new technology-based options.
What is Joel doing about it?
After practicing in family law for 46 years, Joel is combining his legal expertise and knack for technology to offer remote, fixed-fee support. He finds that most people are looking for help navigating the system and for coaching in how to handle their matters themselves. His service, “The Family Law Coach” allows clients to access case assessment, support and legal counsel on their own terms. This can come in the form of 15-minute phone calls, hour long skype sessions, or ongoing email support. This revolutionary approach to legal services presents a new opportunity for self-represented litigants to thrive in the courtroom, without breaking the bank. Every client is unique, and Joel customizes each customer’s services to their specific needs.
How else is technology being incorporated to the legal realm?
We have seen technology be incorporated to the legal realm several times until now. CanLII makes all public Canadian court cases available online, for easy user access. Here at Thistoo we’ve developed online tools to assess child and spousal support, and even generate a separation agreement for uncontested couples. Lawyers have increased their presence online, and can be easily reached through Twitter, email, or via their customized websites. Technology is at our disposal, and thought leaders in the industry continue to employ it in new ways.
Why do legal technology developments matter?
Like Joel, we’ve seen these advancements ease the burden of the legal system on families. We’ve been able to provide support, services and information to those who can’t commit to lawyers long-term. Like Joel, we’re in this business to help families heal, and get on with their lives. We try to make resources accessible, and ensure your family law proceedings are as painless as possible.