Focus On

Ryerson launches initiative to reform family law

Wednesday, November 29, 2017 @ 2:50 PM | By Carolyn Gruske

Faster. Simpler. Cheaper.

Chris Bentley

Chris Bentley, Legal Innovation Zone

According to Chris Bentley, managing director of Ryerson University’s Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ), families that are separating don’t just need legal assistance but they need help that’s delivered more affordably than it’s currently offered, delivered more quickly and delivered in such a way that it’s easier to access and easier to understand.

That’s why LIZ is in the process of launching a new initiative with the goal of meeting those three targets.

The Global Family Justice Initiative (GFJI) is a four-part program that will bring together international experts and stakeholders to come up with approaches designed to reform and revolutionize the family justice system. And if the initiative happens to convince lawyers there is plenty of money to be made in taking a new approach to the practice of family law, Bentley said that’s a good thing.

“There’s a huge unmet legal need that has a value, but lawyers aren’t realizing the value. If we are able to excite lawyers about how much money is at stake here, serving the people who aren’t being served and helping them find different ways to serve them, there’s a market opportunity and [an ability to fill] the noble need, all in one. We just haven’t done that yet.”

He added that the market opportunity for those who deliver services in a different and more affordable way is estimated to be $200 million, and that meeting those needs won’t just involve unbundling, although that will be part of the new approach to service delivery.

The GFJI’s first step is scheduled to happen on Jan. 30, 2018. That’s when the GFJI will release its family justice achievement measure, which will set the target for the program (with regards to the number of people it is going to help and how it will help them) and explain how the progress will get measured.

“What gets measured gets done,” said Bentley.

Then, on June 4, 2018, GFJI will host a family law innovation conference. Bentley said it won’t just be Canadian lawyers talking with each other.

“We’re reaching beyond the people we traditionally speak with and going global. We will seek and solicit those doing something innovative that will move us closer to the goal.”

He said everybody has an interest in family justice matters, but that in the past, lawyers haven’t done as good as job as they could have listening to those outside the profession talk about their experiences and expertise, and that now is the time to start listening.

Another major part of the initiative is the creation of what Bentley calls a family assist portal.

“It really is an online, interactive approach, before and after court, that will help families get further down the road to resolving their issues,” he said, explaining that a lot of people don’t have any idea what their legal options even are, and that a portal will give them a starting point to understand their situation.

As to when the portal is expected to go live, Bentley hinted that it would be nice to be able to demonstrate the progress of the initiative’s online efforts at the June conference.

The final part of the initiative is the commitment to community family justice engagement. GFJI hopes that through in-person gatherings and webinars, people who want to get involved in reforming the family justice system will have the opportunity to do so and to join the initiative.

“This is not simply a legal problem. This is a community problem, and this challenge of families needing faster, simpler, more affordable justice has been around for decades. So it’s time we got everybody involved and made some real progress.”