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What’s Legal Coaching and How Can It Work For You?

Welcome to the world of the family law self-rep.

You’re in family court and you can’t afford to hire a lawyer to take over your case. You know the order you want the judge to make, but aren’t sure how to tell your story to the judge so you can get it.

If any of these describe you – you need legal coaching

  • You’ve never been in family court before and aren’t sure what’s going to happen, when.

  • You’re not sure if you’ve filed the right forms, or if you completed them in the strongest way.

  • You’re not great at speaking in public.

  • Your language or speaking style isn’t as clear as you’d like.

  • You know your facts, but don’t know how to organize them in the way the judge wants to hear them.

  • The other side has a lawyer and you get a bit intimidated when dealing with him or her.

  • You worry that you’ll leave something important out because you’re nervous, or uncertain what the judge regards as important that you don’t.

There are more people in family court like you without lawyers, than there are people who have them.

Statistics show that there are between 54 – 80% of people in Ontario’s family courts who don’t have lawyers. Most think it’s in the higher range. These are self-reps who are trying to do their best in a system that wasn’t designed for them and that favours lawyers over non-lawyers.

Just like anything else, if you’ve never done it before, you’re not sure how to do it well.

And since family court deals with matters that are very important to you, it’s important that you get it right. That’s what legal coaching – or “coaching” – provided by your Coach lawyer is designed to do.

Obviously, the best way to present your case in court is to have a lawyer take over your file. But if you can’t afford, or don’t want, to hire a lawyer for full service representation, you need to find a way to help balance the playing field. One option is to win a lottery and get enough money for traditional legal assistance.

But if that’s not likely, there are three other things you can do:

  • Find a lawyer who provides unbundled services.
  • Find a lawyer who provides coaching.
  • Find a lawyer who provides both.
Heard the old saying about how to best help a hungry person?
“If you really want to help a hungry person, don’t give them a fish to eat,
teach them how to fish.”
Unbundled services give a hungry person a fish to eat.
Coaching teaches a hungry person to fish.

More and more lawyers are saying that they’ll provide unbundled services. This may be all that you need – or not. Click here to find out more about unbundled services and limited scope retainers.

But an “unbundled service” is only delivering a part of what the lawyer normally does for a full-service client. Once you get that service, you’re back on your own. That’s not what The Family Law Coach Solution Packages do.

Coaching offers the best “bang for the buck” for people acting for themselves in family court.

What most people acting for themselves really need most is a combination of legal assistance and coaching, at an affordable price, that they can control. They need the help of a lawyer for the legal parts of their case, but then they need the practical help to present their case in the most effective and persuasive way possible.

That’s exactly what The Family Law Coach Solution Packages offer. Legal assistance and coaching.

So, what’s coaching?

Legal coaching – or just “coaching” – is a new concept in family law. The best definition for family law self-reps I’ve seen is:

“Legal coaching is a type of unbundled legal service, where a lawyer-coach offers behind-the-scenes guidance on both the hard and soft skills of lawyering, in order to provide a (primarily) self-represented litigant with the strategies and tools needed to present their case as effectively as possible in the absence of counsel.” (NOTE 1)

Essentially legal coaching for family law self-reps is providing the information, assistance, strategic advice, and practical tips they need to present their case in the best and most persuasive way. It’s about how to maximize effectiveness in family court.

Coaching is when an experienced family law lawyer helps a self-rep by passing on some of their practical knowledge and experience so the person acting for themselves can be as effective as possible when presenting their case.

You’re a one-time, first-time, user of the court system – the person the courts are supposed to be there for. But the system isn’t designed for you – it’s designed for the lawyers and judges working in it.

If you don’t have a lawyer presenting your case, you’re at a disadvantage. Statistics show that in Ontario’s Superior Court self-reps facing a lawyer lose 5 out of every 6 cases. That’s not fair. It’s not because people with lawyers have better cases and deserve to win 6 times more often. It’s because lawyers who appear in court every day are going to be more effective than non-lawyers who don’t.

You need to show the judge that you know what you’re doing and know how to present the information he or she needs in a meaningful and effective way.

Coaching helps narrow the effectiveness gap and level the playing field.

What does coaching do?

Here’s what coaching from an experienced family law lawyer provides:

  • Assistance in organizing your facts so they tell the story you need a judge to hear, in the most helpful and powerful way.
  • Analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of your case, and those of the other side, so your presentation can be relevant to the issues most concerning the judge.
  • Help writing or revising your written material.
  • Support so you’ll speak as persuasively as you can.
  • Clarification of the law applicable to your matter.
  • Help in understanding how to present your case to the judge in court and deal with the other lawyer.
  • Provide back-up for when you need to talk to a lawyer or coach.

Coaching gives confidence.

Coaching helps you:

  • See the “big picture”
  • Clarify your goals
  • Unlock the potential for improved performance, and
  • Identify and select you best available options

Traditional lawyers don’t do any coaching – and aren’t trained to do it – because they’re the ones doing the representation. They go to school and get experience in court to do it themselves. Doing it is what clients pay them to do.

But as a person acting for yourself, you’re the one doing it. You need to know not only the law, and the rules, and the procedures, but you also need to know what to do with that to make a winning case.

That’s what coaching does.

A good coach will give you confidence to present your best possible case. You’ll be better able to:

  • understand your case and the case you have to meet
  • organize it for the judge
  • make your strongest presentation

The Family Law Coach way

The Family Law Coach lawyer assigned to you (your own Coach lawyer) has experience in court handling matters for full-service clients, has provided unbundled services, and has coached family law litigants acting for themselves. He or she is comfortable providing both legal assistance and coaching to self-reps, and knows that most often both are needed.

The way your Coach lawyer does this is by letting you control how much time you want to buy. You tell your Coach lawyer which Solution Package you want – a one or two-hour package – and then it’s up to you whether to buy more time. How much more time you buy is up to you. It’s for you to decide when and how to best use the lawyer. It’s for you to decide if buying more time will give you more value.

Because each Coach lawyer has spent years representing people in family court, they know what a judge will be looking for and how to get that information out. They’ll be able to give you realistic expectations and coaching about how to achieve your goals. They’ll help you present your case in the best way you can.

Legal Coaching for family law self-reps is something inspired by, but not the same as, executive coaching, which has been around for a long time. (NOTE 2) It draws upon much of the experience and lessons of executive training but has a different objective.

  • Executive coaching helps a person be better at their job. A long-term objective.
    • Legal Coaching helps a self-rep perform better in court. A short-term objective.

The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching “as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” It goes on to say:

“Professional coaching focuses on setting goals, creating outcomes and managing personal change.”

The IDF sees coaching as an ongoing professional relationship that helps people produce extraordinary results in their lives, careers, businesses, or organizations. It helps clients improve their performance in general and at their job.

Legal Coaching is also goal oriented. But it’s a short-term exercise aimed at improving performance to achieve a specific outcome. It’s not designed to improve your ability to do your job better. It’s designed to improve your ability to represent yourself in court in this one case better.

Coaching starts with where clients are now in their family court matter, and helps them do what they can to get the best possible outcome with the material before the judge.

In the recent report of the Family Legal Services Review, December 31, 2016, conducted for the Ontario Attorney General, (NOTE 3) Madam Justice Bonkalo made a series of recommendations. Her first 3 dealt with encouraging lawyers to offer unbundled services, encouraging an expanded use of unbundled services, and supporting the development of legal coaching.

She wrote:

“Legal coaching is a new area of practice the profession should also support. Legal coaching may overlap with some unbundled tasks, but is uniquely characterized by the lawyer equipping the client to move his or her own matter forward (by reviewing documents, preparing them for an appearance, etc.) rather than personally doing the work for the client. Legal coaching can be provided on a fee-for-service or flat-rate model, and may involve the provision of substantive legal advice, procedural coaching, hearings coaching and/or negotiation and settlement coaching. Depending on the client’s needs, capabilities and financial circumstances, coaching and unbundled services can be provided hand-in-hand.”

Legal Coaching will involve different things depending upon each matter. It may include some or all of:

  • Legal advice
  • Process and procedural advice
  • Reviewing and commenting on documents filed in court
  • Assistance in revising or drafting documents for court
  • Suggestions about how to organize written or spoken presentations
  • Strategic guidance about dealing with the strengths and weaknesses of your case and the case you have to meet
  • Support in handling yourself in court
  • Assistance for negotiations and settlement discussions