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Exploring legal innovation

One Family Law in Alberta's Innovation Sandbox

Portrait of Suchetna Channan

The Law Society of Alberta is showing the vital role regulators can play in improving access to justice and streamlining legal processes. At the forefront of legal service innovation in the province is the law society's Innovation Sandbox, set up in 2022 to support innovators in testing new ideas and models for legal services delivery in a controlled environment. 

A recent participant in the pilot project is One Family Law, which promises to offer amicable divorce and legal separation solutions to its clients.

Melissa Bourgeois, a family lawyer and the founder of One Family Law is pushing for a more collaborative approach to counseling divorcing couples, drawing inspiration from the joint-representation approach practised in jurisdictions within the United Kingdom.

Bourgeois is careful to highlight the advantages and limitations of one-lawyer-one-couple representation. While unconventional, the approach facilitates mutually beneficial settlements and fosters cooperative dynamics between couples. However, not all couples are suited for it, and separate representation is often necessary in cases involving disagreements, power imbalances, allegations of domestic violence, highly acrimonious relationships between spouses, lack of transparency, solicitor-client privilege, or concerns about fairness.

Conversely, there are situations when both individuals agree on issues such as property division, child custody and support. For those who are on decent terms and have a cooperative relationship, opting for shared representation to finalize the legal paperwork can be far more efficient. What's more, they can avoid litigation or court intervention.

In the event of a breach of terms, irreconcilable differences or conflict, Bourgeois says that One Family Law's role as a shared lawyer will cease, and the individuals must seek alternative representation. This ensures that each party's interests are adequately represented and protected when resolving disputes or addressing breaches.

According to Colin Brandt, a senior communications advisor at the Law Society of Alberta, being approved for the Innovation Sandbox marks a significant step for One Family Law

The program offers a unique space where regulatory constraints are relaxed, allowing innovative approaches to legal service delivery to flourish. 

Participants like One Family Law enter into agreements outlining operational and reporting requirements during a pilot period. While the application of certain rules, such as Rule 3.4-2 of Alberta's Code of Conduct that precludes a lawyer representing both parties in a dispute, are relaxed, stringent oversight measures are put in place to ensure compliance with ethical standards and legal obligations. Regular communication with the Law Society staff and One Family Law helps identify any risks and ensures adherence to professional practices.

Brandt explains that the Innovation Sandbox works in two ways. First, it provides a space where providers can safely test new legal service delivery models. Second, it allows the Law Society to test whether its regulatory model can be adapted to better serve the public interest.

If successful, Brandt believes the project could lead to broader adoption of innovative models within the legal profession. By demonstrating tangible benefits to both legal practitioners and the public, the Innovation Sandbox could prompt adaptations to existing regulatory frameworks. This could ultimately pave the way for more accessible and efficient legal services, benefitting clients and legal professionals alike.

Brandt encouraged those interested in learning more about the Innovation Sandbox program and its participants to visit the Law Society's website for comprehensive information. Initiatives like the Innovation Sandbox demonstrate the legal profession's commitment to embracing innovation while upholding ethical standards and serving the public interest, he says. Through collaborative and innovative efforts, the legal community in Alberta has an opportunity to pave the way to a more amicable, efficient and equitable legal system.