Uncovering opportunities for legal services

Uncovering opportunities for legal services
  • Sarah A. Sutherland

  • June 20, 2023

Canada’s access to justice gap is widening, and the legal industry must find ways to narrow it. It’s a gap that also presents major opportunities for growth in legal services. Both for-profit and non-profit services have the chance to tap into a large, underserved market. By analyzing data on how people experience legal problems, we can uncover some potential new business models that can help resolve these issues.

According to the Canadian Legal Problems Survey, when people facing serious legal problems are asked why they don’t reach out to lawyers, 1.1 million individuals in Canada say they can’t afford legal assistance. However, there are various other reasons for not seeking legal help. Among them, 1.3 million individuals, many of whom are afraid of making matters worse, say legal assistance wouldn’t be useful. Another 1.1 million prefer to solve the problem independently.

This shows that cost is only one of the barriers to people accessing legal services. It points to a need to effectively communicate the importance of seeking legal assistance, so individuals can achieve better outcomes for their problems while expanding the legal services market.

Every three years, 1.4 million people in Canada report negative health impacts due to extreme stress caused by their legal problems who don’t report negative financial impacts or contact lawyers to help resolve them. And yet many could afford legal help if they understood it to be an appropriate course of action for their situation. Finding ways to provide legal services in ways that reduce stress for clients certainly holds promise for a successful business development strategy, while also relieving the burden of legal problems on individuals and communities.

Another potential area for business development is providing services to individuals with less serious legal problems. In Canada, there are 2.6 million people who fall under this category, spread over a three-year period. The most common types of problems range from vandalism, property damage, noise complaints (596,000), owed debts or money (312,000) to issues with major purchases or services (310,000).

There are initiatives around the world, such as the Civil Resolution Tribunal in British Columbia, which show that legal assistance can be delivered using significant automation as long as there is assistance if needed for problems that turn out to be serious.

Given that 2.4 million people search the internet for information about their legal problems every three years, exploring new ways to reach this audience could be a fruitful direction for business development.

Among people who searched online but found the information unhelpful are those experiencing harassment (149,000), vandalism, property damage and noise complaints (128,000), and poor or incorrect medical treatment (123,000). Solutions could involve simple improvements to search engine optimization for relevant practices or resources or more complex innovations in online service delivery.

Another area for improvement is finding ways to assist people acting alone when contacting opposing parties. Facilitating communication through mediation or other forms of structured exchange could significantly enhance people’s experiences and offer them more affordable service options. This is particularly relevant for people dealing with issues related to major purchases and services, vandalism, property damage and noise complaints, and even collecting debts.

Millions of Canadians need to learn where to get information and advice when they become aware of their legal problems. People’s most common courses of action are to search the internet (49%) or ask friends or family for advice (49%). Many also contact the other party involved (46%). By making better information available online in a way that is easily accessible, legal organizations can help individuals respond to their problems more effectively.

There are real opportunities to build business models that prioritize human needs associated with legal problems, while also being profitable and beneficial to society. The Canadian Legal Problems Survey shows a significant potential market for legal services that provide good communication in ways that people find accessible. There is no shortage of clients out there in need of legal advice.

This post was originally published in the Canadian Bar Association’s National magazine on June 20, 2023.