Do-it-yourself divorce law made easier: Ottawa firm launches new app

There are more than a few eyebrow-raising statistics when it comes to divorce in Canada.

For example, the most recent figures indicate that nearly half of all marriages in this country will ultimately end in divorce. Even more interestingly from a business perspective, the majority of those who get divorced choose to represent themselves rather than hire a lawyer.

That’s where the creators of a web application called Thistoo see a major market opportunity. Ottawa-based law technology firm Miralaw has designed the app as a virtual lawyer that will guide users through the legal process of divorce.

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According to the Law Society of Upper Canada, anywhere from 50 to 70 per cent of family law litigants are self-represented in Ontario. In other parts of North America such as California, the figure can be as high as 80 per cent, the company says.

“There are some pretty startling statistics about family law,” says Samuel Witherspoon, the 30-year-old founder and CEO of Miralaw. “The biggest … is the number of people who self-represent, who don’t use a lawyer.”

The company started in 2014 as a legal analytics firm focused on using court data to predict legal outcomes based on previous cases. After extensive data-crunching, the firm narrowed its focus to family law, an area of highly predictable outcomes.

“Judges in family law very rarely deviate from what the law says,” Mr. Witherspoon explains. “It’s almost impossible, so there’s really not a lot to fight about unless you’re in a really, really unique situation.”

Thistoo pulls information from users’ files, analyzes them and then guides users through their divorce using four core pillars: plan, organize, agree and resolve. The objective is to get each person to move through those steps individually.  

The app is designed only to support an uncontested divorce, and the bulk of divorces are resolved fairly amicably and without a major disagreement, Mr. Witherspoon says. In more contentious cases, the company will pair clients with lawyers and mediators.

Shortly, the firm will also roll out an artificial intelligence feature that will take a user’s profile and provide the nearest three matches to historical case data to show the user what his or her situation will look like based on past cases.

“They can see, ‘If I do choose to fight it, what is the actual outcome going to be from court versus if I just settle,’ and the honest answer is that 99.9 per cent of the time there is no difference, and that’s what judges time and again communicate,” Mr. Witherspoon says. “There’s a perception that you can litigate and get a better deal in some way, when in reality all you do is spend your money on legal fees.”

Last year, the companylaunched, an online transfer system for legal documents, after Ontario’s Rules of Civil Procedure changed on Jan. 1, 2015 to allow for electronic document exchange. Mr. Witherspoon says that product didn’t have enough value-added elements on its own, so now it’s used as the back end of Thistoo, doing the document exchanges that are required to make the app work.

Miralaw currently employs 10 people at its Ottawa headquarters. Right now, the Thistoo app is only available in Ontario, but the company plans to expand into the rest of Canada as early as June. Mr. Witherspoon says he projects revenues of roughly $1.9 million a year for the app, which introduced paid features on Feb. 19.

Miralaw’s financial backing is currently led by Miralta Capital, a venture capital firm based in the Montreal area, with additional funding from angel investors such as lawyers and businesspeople, predominantly in the Ottawa area.

Mr. Witherspoon says there’s more than just a profit motive behind the service. Self-representing litigants who don’t understand the divorce process have placed an unnecessary burden on divorce courts for far too long, he explains.

“There’s just so much opportunity in family law to help people improve their access.”

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