A long-time advocate for access to justice, Jo-Anne Stark stumbled into legal coaching after a difficult personal experience. Working with a lawyer in court during a long and drawn-out divorce was relatively easy thanks to her legal education, but throughout the process she thought of all the people who go through a similar experience without the luxury of a law degree or legal representation. Maybe, she thought, if they had a little coaching from a legal professional, they would be able to represent themselves and address their legal issues without the huge expense normally involved. Jo-Anne founded Stark Solutions Legal Coaching & Consulting, a coaching service for self-represented litigants, with exactly this in mind.
Raised in Saskatchewan in a family of lawyers, Jo-Anne studied arts and commerce before following in their footsteps and applying to go to law school. She was always a strong advocate for giving people a voice and fighting against injustice and this influenced Jo-Anne’s decision to pursue law as well. Like many law students, she worked in private practice for a few years at the start of her career. But she quickly realized it was not the right path for her.
Jo-Anne has worn many different hats since her time in private practice. She worked as a wills and estate planner, an arbitrator for the governments of British Columbia and Saskatchewan, in-house counsel for a national bank and trust company, and a lobbyist for the Canadian Bar Association. “Anything but traditional”, is how Jo-Anne describes her career path and current practice. “As you go through your professional life, you learn your strengths and learn what you want to do. You create what you want to create.”
Jo-Anne created Stark Solutions in 2013 and became the first virtual legal coach in Saskatchewan in 2018. Legal coaching is a way for legal professionals to support and guide individuals with no legal background to represent themselves in legal matters. It makes individuals feel empowered when managing their own legal problems and clients know exactly what they will need to pay for the coaching sessions both of which significantly reduce the stress of litigation.
The sometimes-held belief that legal coaching will make lawyers go out of business makes little sense to Jo-Anne, because coaching does not cater to the same market. There will always be a demand for traditional lawyers, and legal coaching provides a way to reach those who would not otherwise hire a lawyer, generally due to the cost. Within a few years of her launch, the province of Saskatchewan made legal coaching an area of practice in the province, a huge stepping stone for future legal coaches in Canada.
In 2019, Jo-Anne founded the Legal Coach Association, a non-profit organization representing members of the legal profession who are certified as Legal Coaches. She also offers the Certified Legal Coach Course to certify new coaches. Jo-Anne’s goal is to build awareness about the area of practice and provide a network for coaches. Her book, Mastering the Art of Legal Coaching, serves as a valuable tool for anyone curious about this new profession.
As the name suggests, running a non-profit is not always that profitable. But Jo-Anne believes in the cause and hopes that the fruits of her labor will be rewarded over time. Her coaching work at Stark Solutions provides her with a steady stream of income and the flexibility to work from anywhere in the world. In 2022, Jo-Anne spent part of her year serving clients in Italy and Mexico.
In her twenties, Jo-Anne felt a bit lost when her entire identity was about her legal job. She did not recognize herself anymore and realized she needed to find balance to be happy. Today, Jo-Anne encourages law students and new lawyers to do what they love, but not make the mistake of letting “lawyer” be their only identity because there is so much more to life. She loves where she’s currently at professionally and has a passion for her work, but says the most important thing she has ever done is raise her two amazing children.
Over 30 years in the legal profession, Jo-Anne has collected a variety of experiences through time spent in different roles as a legal professional. These years were not wasted, as each new opportunity she took brought her closer to finding her Ikigai, the Japanese word for “sweet spot”. It is safe to say that as a legal professional, author, non-profit leader, and most importantly, mother, Jo-Anne is now in her sweet spot.