Meet Jo-Anne Stark, a lawyer, advocate, author, and presenter. She can be described as a change-maker and disrupter in the legal services industry. After a traumatic and costly divorce, she was determined to find ways for lawyers to offer affordable legal services. The result was a virtual legal coaching practice. Realizing the growing need for limited legal services, she made it her mission to show other lawyers how to do law differently.
In late 2020, her book entitled Mastering the Art of Legal Coaching was published, and she launched the Legal Coaches Association, a federal non-profit organization whose mission is to create a network of highly qualified legal coaches. While founding this organization and operating it on a volunteer basis out of Vancouver, Canada, Jo-Anne developed the first Certified Legal Coach training program; she facilitates monthly virtual training for legal professionals, teaching the skills to effectively coach self-represented litigants, while also sharing the tools needed to build a successful business model with minimal overhead.
It is her passion to encourage lawyers to completely re-think the way legal services are delivered and adapt their practice to meet the changing expectations of today’s clients. Jo-Anne is determined to break down barriers and be a leader in the movement to transform the legal industry into one that empowers people to confidently manage their legal affairs. She continues to work towards a goal to one day see thousands of lawyers offering legal coaching services to the public.
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Jo-Anne Stark: I run Stark Solutions Legal Coaching & Consulting and operate the Legal Coaches Association, a not-for-profit corporation. Through these entities, I
- Advocate for innovative ways to improve access to justice;
- Train lawyers and other legal professionals to be Certified Legal Coaches and offer consulting to establish virtual legal coaching practices;
- Coach self-represented clients as they work through legal matters, including divorce and separation, commercial transactions and estate administration;
I train and present legal coaching skills and techniques to legal professionals and offer consultation services for best business practices to help others provide affordable and client-centric legal coaching services.
I believe in empowering clients to take control of their legal matters without incurring substantial legal expenses. Legal coaching services are provided through a virtual office, and the resulting cost savings are passed along to the client, who retains complete control over the process.
I founded the first association for legal coaches and developed the first certification program for legal coaching in North America, where I teach legal professionals alternate ways to provide affordable legal services to the underserved members of the public. I am a regular presenter to legal professionals and regularly contribute to national publications for lawyers on legal coaching and limited scope legal services.
2020 and 2021 threw a lot of curve balls into business on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past couple years, how can businesses thrive in 2022? What lessons have you learned?
Jo-Anne Stark: The legal services industry has always been one steeped in tradition and reluctant to change. However, with the recent concerns over social distancing, law firms and courts had to quickly pivot and learn how to operate virtually – something I was already doing as a legal coach. Not only has the WAY we deliver legal services changed dramatically as a result of the pandemic restrictions, but the needs and expectations of clients have changed as well.
Law firms that want to survive and thrive in the coming years are going to need to adopt technology, meet changing client expectations and learn how to provide affordable legal services to the vast majority of people currently representing themselves due to high legal costs. I’ve learned that there is a huge untapped market of self-represented litigants demanding limited legal services – and that the art of legal coaching is something many more legal professionals need to provide.
The pandemic seems to keep on disrupting the economy, what should businesses focus on in 2022? What advice would you share?
Jo-Anne Stark: Businesses need to be aware and constantly monitoring the changing economy. It isn’t necessary to make dramatic changes – but in my mind, the legal industry should be aware of what is happening, what clients expect and be nimble enough to adjust service offerings to meet clients where they are at.
With a possible recession on the horizon, law firms need to ensure that they are offering flexible payment plans or fixed pricing – and that they have lawyers prepared to offer services that are more in demand when the economy is struggling. This might include debtor/creditor law, family law, bankruptcy and restructuring, and employment law. Having a contingency plan for a possible recession is just smart – and possibly essential – to ride out the economic turmoil.
How has the pandemic changed your industry and how have you adapted?
Jo-Anne Stark: The dramatic shift in the delivery of legal services to online virtual client meetings and court appearances has, for the most part, improved access to justice.
People who live in remote areas suddenly have an avenue to access legal assistance and appear in court – if they have the technology and internet capabilities. Even though the use of digital technology has improved access for most, the need for proper legal advice, direction and support has grown as more people than ever are representing themselves and are managing their own legal matters.
To keep up with the growing demand, I’ve had to change my own practice to focus more on training legal professionals to become legal coaches and to offer limited legal services within their own practices. I did not start out with a plan to write a book, start a non-profit and launch a certification program – but since 2020, this work has paid off as we see more legal coaches offering this valuable service!
What advice do you wish you received when the pandemic started and what do you intend on improving in 2022?
Jo-Anne Stark: The advice that I wish I’d received was to keep work/life balance in place. With the shutdowns, I basically worked 7 days a week on three job roles, and although I accomplished a lot, it wasn’t easy. None of us probably realized that the pandemic would last as long as it has, and I didn’t realize in 2020 that I was setting myself up for a relentless schedule.
Now I have backed away from one position, and I expect that now I can focus a bit more on balancing work with my personal life – including some plans to travel!
Online business surged higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for 2022?
Jo-Anne Stark: I expect that in the legal services industry, demand will remain for virtual and hybrid options – both on the part of lawyers and by clients. The benefits of offering services virtually and time saved appearing in court by video have improved access to justice tremendously – so I don’t see things going completely back to the way things were before. I also see more and more legal professionals seeking information about providing limited legal services, such as legal coaching.
The pent-up demand for more affordable legal services is driving change throughout North America – resulting in more innovation sandbox projects and changing regulation of the legal profession – opening the door for more so-called “non-lawyers” to offer limited legal services. Since these providers will be servicing clients that had no ability to afford full legal representation, I see these changes as a “win” for the public.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?
Jo-Anne Stark: During the height of the pandemic, I spent about 12 hours a day in front of a computer – but these days, I’ve been focusing on finding balance. Now I spend about 5 hours a day in front of a screen.
The majority of executives use stories to persuade and communicate in the workplace. Can you share with our readers examples of how you implement that in your business to communicate effectively with your team?
Jo-Anne Stark: We all know that the theory of survival is not that the biggest and strongest will survive; instead, it is those that are willing and able to adapt to the changing environment that survive and thrive. I use this as a reminder to lawyers who steadfastly refuse to change how they operate their practice and how they deliver legal services.
The world has changed – yet the practice of law has been painfully slow to adapt. Back in 2019 when I would give presentations for bar associations or law societies, some lawyers would scoff at my suggestion that they use virtual technology such as Zoom to communicate more regularly with clients. Those same lawyers have either hung up their robes for good or have learned how to use the technology to conduct their business.
The pandemic indeed has shown that we need to change how we operate or face considerable losses.
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as the real challenge right now?
Jo-Anne Stark: In my industry, the biggest challenge is convincing the more senior professionals that having paralegals and other types of legal professionals offer limited services is a good thing. Lawyers have enjoyed a monopoly for so long – and yet we have created a legal and justice system that is inaccessible for most people facing everyday legal problems. Once lawyers accept that change is happening, they can decide whether they want to be part of the problem, or part of the solution.
I am so grateful I have the opportunity to work with lawyers and paralegals who are innovative in their thinking and who see the real opportunity in this! Whether I’m working with a mid-sized firm that is adding legal coaching to their practice, or whether I’m training individual lawyers and paralegals how to set up a legal coaching business of their own – the impact of this opportunity is unlimited.
In 2022, what are you most interested in learning about? Crypto, NFTs, online marketing, or any other skill sets? Please share your motivations.
Jo-Anne Stark: I’ve been spending more time of late updating my skills for online and digital marketing – from online certification programs to university offerings.
I know that most lawyers I work with are very uncomfortable dealing with the “business side” of running a practice – so I always spend a full day working with people in my training program on developing a personal marketing plan – everything from drafting an “elevator pitch” to tips on how to use social media to build awareness around legal coaching.
Social media is constantly changing – so the learning never ends!
A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September in 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation. 47% of people plan to leave their job during 2022. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. Do you think leaders see the data and think “that’s not me – I’m not that boss they don’t want to work for? What changes do you think need to happen?
Jo-Anne Stark: It’s really not a great surprise to see so many unsatisfied workers leaving their jobs. Many people suffer from ridiculous commutes to offices and life is really too short to spend it in a traffic jam twice a day.
I know that many large firms are having to go to great lengths to attract and keep junior lawyers of late – something that certainly wasn’t happening in the 1990s when I started off as a lawyer! I can understand their perspective – most senior lawyers spent decades working very hard, long hours and many chose a career over having a family- so they may expect the same of those that they now hire and mentor.
I get calls all the time from young lawyers that feel disillusioned by the profession and are looking for alternatives like legal coaching, where they can offer services to the public remotely. There seems to be a natural shift away from the way lawyers practiced in the past.
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Jo-Anne Stark: I would like the ability to read hundreds of emails in a split second! Some days it feels like I spend too much time weeding through various inboxes, just trying to figure out what to focus my attention on. It would be great to just snap my fingers in the morning as I turn on my computer, and have all the non-important emails magically delete!
What does “success” in 2022 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Jo-Anne Stark: In the coming year, I hope to be able to focus more on helping the legal industry transform the way that it offers legal services. I’d like to see more lawyers learn about legal coaching, and hope to fill up my training sessions with more professionals from the United States and beyond.
In addition to offering professional development, I’m also working on advocacy projects to bring down regulatory barriers. Seeing more action and less “talk” on that front would certainly spell success!
Jerome Knyszewski, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Jo-Anne Stark for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Jo-Anne Stark or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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