Many people are well aware that family law litigation can be prolonged, exhausting, and costly, to say the least. These are motivating factors for litigants to settle their issues in a prompt manner. It is no surprise then that legal procedures are geared toward quick resolutions, as this normally benefits the parties involved.
"It is accepted, even by those who work within it, that Ontario’s family law system is utterly broken", writes Christie Blatchford in an article entitled, "Getting to the root of Ontario’s family law mess".
Agreed. I think you would be hard pressed finding anyone to disagree.
The vicious child custody battles and their shocking legal fees, and the endless losing battles against a former spouse who is seemingly impervious to reason are stories well known to everyone who works in the system. What is also shocking and frustrating, though, is that the blame for this is laid at the feet of lawyers, most of whom are not seeking to profit from the misery of others.
I am a young lawyer but the past year of managing my own law practice has confirmed what everyone already knows: justice is not only blind but it is also deaf and mute. I remember growing up with my mother telling me that if artful thieves exist and can target me, I must also be artful in protecting myself. I now somehow entangled this notion as a metaphor in the calculation of what it takes to achieve justice as a lawyer.
My colleagues inspire me on a daily basis. For this post, I’m taking my cue from one of them. Interestingly enough, this particular colleague tends to write about the people in our profession who inspire her. She chooses to amplify the strides that members of our profession make, perhaps because she recognizes that if one of us moves the profession forward, then we all have the potential to do so.
Going through law school, I so often heard that it was a lawyer’s duty not to bring the justice system into disrepute. This always seemed like a hilarious statement to me. Personally, I come from a “modest means” background (that’s lawyers’ speak for saying I’m broke and from a trailer park). I grew up in a community where 30% of children live under the poverty line. A place where economic depression is the status quo and where honest hard-working people sell weed on top of working full-time and going to school so that they can pay their rent, feed their kids, and hope for a better future. Yet the system tries to put these people behind bars on mandatory minimums. I come from a place where domestic violence mixed with mental health and addictions issues are rampant. When you call the police on your drunk, mentally disturbed father who just pulled a shot gun on you, the system tells him that he has to complete one day of anger management, and that’s meant to solve the issue of ongoing domestic/substance abuse. When you come from a place like this, let’s just say you don’t have a lot of respect for authority. When you come from a place like this, saying don’t bring the justice system into disrepute just makes you laugh and think…was it ever reputable to begin with?
As young legal professionals, we don’t always have the ability to make decisions about what clients we accept and at what rates. Many young firm-based lawyers are subject to the demands of senior partners who may care more about the bottom line than providing legal services to those in need. While others practicing solo may be charged with the heavy burden of paying down debt from student loans, business costs, etc.. Whatever the cause, there are several financial reasons for denying services to “modest means” or “no means” clients.
I want to extend congratulations to my colleagues Andreas and Roxana for doing something that is truly inspiring to me. They have taken a case on a contingency fee basis, which means, no retainer upfront - despite get the money upfront being the cardinal rule of being in business for yourself as a lawyer. Instead, they will be in it for the long haul, and will spend many hours of unpaid work on this file before ever seeing a dime.
There is talk in the legal community about the justice system being broken, and a fundamental part of this is that ordinary people cannot afford lawyers. Ordinary people, having not been to law school, are having difficulty navigating a system that was not set up to be obvious, easy or intuitive. This is also part of the problem with affording a lawyer: it even takes lawyers a very long time to achieve anything.