Broadening the Base - Completing the Paradigm Shift

by Robert Harvie October 27, 2014

Forgive me readers for I have sinned.

It has been over one year since my last post, and for that, I seek penance.

In my defence, I have been incredibly immersed in work as a Bencher with the Law Society of Alberta, specifically chairing the Access to Justice Committee - a job which has taken me from Vancouver to Halifax - sea to sea - while also sitting as an Advisory Board Member with the National Self-Represented Litigants Project under the incredibly gifted and driven Dr. Julie Macfarlane.

No excuses, but there it is.


Here I am, at the keyboard, seeking to atone for my sin - recharged and motivated I suppose following a great weekend at the Vancouver IACP Networking Forum - taking me back to my very first forum in Vancouver in 2003.

My Collaborative pencil sharpened, after sharing thoughts and ideas with Collaborative colleagues from around the world, I left Vancouver feeling pretty good.

However. Somewhere over the Rockies, as I was slipping back into my A2J and NSRLP hats, I confess feeling some anxiety. As amazing and helpful as the Collaborative process has been for many persons involved in difficulties - particularly in family law matters - I confess feeling some angst that the Collaborative process has still failed to connect and deliver for so many other people. In most jurisdictions we are seeing alarming numbers of self-represented parties entering our court systems - some courts as high as 70% - struggling to find resolution in a confusing and hostile place.

Some of this, no doubt, is attributable to our need to increase the conversation. To get the word out. However - we are now quite a long way from the days when Collaborative Practice first bloomed. "Collaboration" is a word in common parlance in most family law conversations. The concern, I fear, is to a great extent economic. As Linda Wray pointed out in her review of data on the Collaborative Process, the average cost for a Collaborative resolution is slightly less than $25,000.00. That's much better than most litigated outcomes, in terms of cost, but it's still a significant impediment for many people to overcome. And while there has been excellent effort at providing pro- and low-bono Collaborative work, that isn't a sustainable solution to broadening the effort to allow some form of Collaborative delivery to most middle and lower-middle class people.

The answer? Sorry - I don't have one. I guess I write this post to lean on the collective imagination and input of the incredibly gifted and motivated members of our organization to help take the next leap. To more fully complete the "paradigm shift" we've all envisioned - to remove a significant impediment that prevents Collaborative work from being fully accessible to the whole of society - by creating a form of Collaborative resolution which is, perhaps, "collaborative-lite" in some sense.  A delivery model that allows for resolution at a cost point of say $5,000.00, all in.

Is there enough magic in the air flowing from the seaside in Vancouver to fashion such a solution? I'm betting there is - and who knows, maybe there's a Washington, D.C. presentation in the making for someone in our midst! I suppose, to be truthful, I'm trying to consolidate my workload  as a Collaborative lawyer, as someone seeking to respond to the general access to justice question and as someone seeking to assist in addressing the self-represented litigant phenomenon.  I would welcome ideas on how the Collaborative Process could contribute to the broader Access to Justice concern - feel free to email me directly with your experience, thoughts and suggestions at

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