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The views and opinions expressed in the NSRLP Blog are those of the author.


New Data on SRLs: The Spectacular Rise of the Savvy Self-Represented Litigant

This week we published our latest SRL Intake Report, collating and analyzing the information we received from 73 self-reps who completed the Intake Form posted on the NSRLP website between April 2015 and December 2016. Although the SRLs who have the patience and time to complete the Intake Form (thank you!) comprise a fraction of those who reach out to the Project annually, we have been tracking their encounters with the justice system and sharing it with both the legal [...]

2017 Could be the Year of the Paralegal – Or, Will #AltFacts Prevail?

I once memorably shared a stage at a public meeting organized by the Ottawa Writer’s Festival on the Access to Justice crisis with the (then) Treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada. It was a Saturday afternoon, and the hall was packed. After his presentation – in which he sought to play down the A2J crisis (“it’s not really a crisis”), the Treasurer was asked by an audience member why the Society did not permit paralegals (whom the Society [...]

Robin Camp Latest: Bogus Arguments about what the Public Thinks about His Removal from the Bench (Without Consulting any Actual Members of the Public)

Robin Camp is a federal court judge who, following a series of offensive remarks made in a sexual assault trial, was the subject of a complaint to the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) and a subsequent inquiry. In November, the CJC recommended his removal from the Bench. In their lengthy brief submitted on January 6th asking, once again (having been rejected in December) for an opportunity to make further (to the week-long hearing in September) oral submissions, Robin Camp’s three lawyers [...]

Working With, Not Against the Public: A New Year Manifesto for the NSRLP

As 2016 drew to a close, we heard a lot of angst and analysis about the seismic events of the year. And yes – this was going on in my household too. I had looked on in disbelief as my home country voted in June to leave the European Union – falling prey to deeply rooted fears of immigrants and apparent nostalgia for the days of Empire. Then in November we watched as the U.S. – where I have family, [...]

Without a Litigation Representative, Brain-Damaged Plaintiff Forced to Represent Herself by Court that Alters Her Competency Designation

One of the stories that haunted me from the 2013 National Study was told me by a woman (“Fiona”) who, following a traumatic brain injury sustained in a motor vehicle accident that ended her career, was trying to recover spousal support arrears. She had had a lawyer, but like many of the SRLs in the study, had run out of funds to continue. Fiona explained to the settlement conference judge that as a person with a brain injury, she [...]

Self-Represented Litigants Stumble Finding Answers to Procedural Questions: But a Solution is within Reach

This week’s blog is written by Heather Hui-Litwin, a long-time friend of NSRLP, former SRL and co-founder of the Self-Rep Navigators group in Toronto (www.limitedscoperetainers.ca). Heather recounts her experience trying to track down procedural information for a SRL she is assisting. The 2013 Study, and our continued daily contact with SRLs at the NSRLP, demonstrates how much SRLs worry and stress about navigating court procedures, and the significance of access to accurate procedural information. Heather’s personal experiment described below shows [...]

The Continuing Growth of SRL Jurisprudence: Two Encouraging Rays of Light

There have been some worrisome developments recently in the jurisprudence concerning self-represented litigants – but also, in the last few weeks, two important rays of light. Punishing self-rep mistakes with costs Three weeks ago I wrote my blog on Dorey v Dorey, an Ontario Superior Court decision that imposed $15,000 worth of legal costs on a SRL who was judged to have intentionally and mischievously protracted litigation via multiple filings and exhibits, by not making an Offer to Settle, and her [...]

Two Tales Illustrating the Importance of Unbundled Legal Services for Access to Justice

This week NSRLP released the National Database of Professionals Assisting SRLs, along with a video (watch here: http://representingyourselfcanada.com encouraging lawyers to consider offering unbundled legal services, and featuring endorsements by Chief Justice Robert Bauman of British Columbia, Chief Justice Michael MacDonald of Nova Scotia, and Associate Chief Justice Frank Marrocco of the Ontario Superior Court. This is an initiative that we have been working on since last spring, slowly coaxing lawyers and others to step forward and become part of [...]

A Punitive Costs Award Against a SRL – and the Lawyers Who Gloat

Last week, I received an email from someone working with self-represented litigants drawing my attention to a case reported in Advocates Daily (Dorey v Dorey (2016 ONSC 2746)). $15,000 awarded against a SRL for “intentionally” driving up costs This ruling on costs by Madam Justice McGee awards $15,000 of costs against the applicant mother (self-representing) in a child support variation case. The respondent father was represented by counsel, and the judge accepted the argument that the mother had intentionally escalated the [...]

A Legal Education in the Public Interest? The Legal Practice Program and Access to Justice

The Law Society of Upper Canada’s Professional Development and Competence Committee has recommended that the Legal Practice Program (the LPP) – a one-year course at Ryerson and Ottawa U., which offers law graduates an alternative to articling – should be discontinued in 2017. The LPP was introduced as a three-year pilot project as an alternative route to qualification, for students who were unable to find articles, or who preferred instruction. I agree with the robust defence of the LPP being made [...]

Reflecting on the Fake Shock over Donald Trump: Why Now?

Subject-matter warning It is rare – as it should be – that my blog is not focused on Access to Justice and self-representation. I am grateful for and respect the fact that the followers of this blog are looking for information, news and analysis on this topic which is so incredibly important, and so dear to my heart. But this Thanksgiving weekend I am asking your permission to allow an exception to this rule. Because if there was ever a time [...]

Why it is Critical to Educate Law Students About the Self-Represented Litigant Phenomenon

Last spring my team of student research assistants and I did some brainstorming about an issue that concerned us all deeply. How best to both inform and energize law students about the explosion of self-represented litigants and its implications? How to give law students an understanding of the struggles faced by those with no alternative but to represent themselves because they could not afford counsel (or only a little bit of counsel)?  How to encourage law students to begin to think practically [...]

Why Robin Camp Must Be Removed from the Bench

  Over the past few weeks I have watched with a growing sense of unreality as leading members of the legal establishment have stepped forward to defend Robin Camp, and argue for him to remain a member of the Canadian judiciary. In case you missed it, Robin Camp (whom I shall not call Justice Camp) is the judge who displayed complete ignorance of Canadian law on sexual consent in a rape case in which he asked the rape victim (whom he [...]

The Mess that is Tarion: Conflict of Interest, Uneven Contests, and Failure to Act

I’ve blogged before about the sorry state of the Licensing Appeal Tribunal process meant to resolve disputes between homeowners and builders under Ontario’s new homes warranty program, Tarion. What is Tarion? Tarion is a corporation that regulates and licenses the building industry in Ontario Tarion is responsible for administering the government’s home warranty program under the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act. Tarion’s Board of Directors and corporate leadership is dominated by industry representatives and lacks consumer representation (written about by national columnists [...]

“My Learned Friend”: Building Constructive Working Relationships Between Self-Represented Litigants and Opposing Counsel

Working with Opposing Counsel We know from our research that many SRLs will find that the other side in the dispute is represented by a lawyer, for some or all of the time. When this is the case, it is critically important for the SRL and opposing counsel to create a constructive working relationship. A functional professional relationship between the SRL and opposing counsel is critical to the progress and the resolution of the case. But for a variety of reasons, [...]

Welcoming our 1Ls to Access to Justice at Windsor Law: The Self-Represented Litigants and Access to Justice Certificate Workshop, and an Introductory Blog

Julie – with the assistance of NSRLP research assistants Gurleen Gill and Lidia Imbrogno – will be presenting The Self-Represented Litigants and Access to Justice Certificate Workshop on Saturday September 17th for Windsor 1Ls. The workshop’s goal is to familiarize new students with the basic facts of the SRL phenomenon, and encourage them to begin to think about how they might respond to these changes and challenges both as law students and as future lawyers. Local SRLs will also [...]

Why Law Students should Care about Self-Represented Litigants and Access to Justice

Guest blog by Lidia Imbrogno, NSRLP research assistant and 2L, Windsor Law  Depending on whom you ask, “Access to Justice” can mean different things. When I first came across this term a few years ago, I thought that it sounded like a term for victims seeking retributive action, or perhaps a synonym for human rights. As a law school applicant and later a 1L at Windsor Law, the meaning of Access to Justice began to take shape for me. But it [...]

Making it Legal: Some Simple Steps for Moving Unbundling to the Next Stage

NSRLP has just collated the results of a short online survey, distributed through social media to lawyers in Ontario whom we knew were offering or considering offering unbundled legal services to family litigants. The survey, developed at the request of the Ontario Family Legal Services Review, was “live” for just two weeks and has a small sample size – but the almost 50 responses provide a reasonable snapshot of the opinions of both lawyers working with clients using limited scope [...]

The client most lawyers fear – and won’t represent at any price

by Donald Best There is a class of self-represented litigants that the legal profession does not talk about or even acknowledge, at least publicly. These are the people who are ready and willing to pay a lawyer, but are forced to represent themselves because the vast majority of lawyers refuse to litigate cases involving a claim of professional misconduct against another member of the Bar. In the past year I have spoken with dozens of such individuals. I am not a [...]

A Terrible Week: Moving the Needle on Social Change

Last week I was fortunate to listen to a speech given in Essex County by Paul Schmitz (Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up, 2011) on the lessons of building community collaborations that “move the needle” on real social change. As well as being practical and concrete, Paul’s ideas resonate with those who believe in leadership by many – and that everyone – not just the “experts” or system insiders – has the potential to contribute to change. Paul’s [...]

Casual Sexism and Access to Justice – Facing Our Discomfort

Earlier this week, NSRLP posted a notice about a new women’s legal aid clinic in Vancouver on Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately, we have recently had to block a couple of Twitter accounts that have responded with misogynist comments to our tweets about women’s issues, and in particular, how the legal system fails to address sexual violence, most of whose victims are women. As some of you may have noticed, I have increasingly tweeted about these issues that I believe are [...]

New National SRL Support Organization: “My Journey to Advocacy”

Guest blog by Jana Saracevic, National Self-Represented Litigants Support Network How I Got Here  In 2008, my family and I became a statistic. We entered the enigmatic world of the family legal system. My spouse and I wore rose-coloured glasses – we imagined the process of separation and divorce would be relatively straightforward, and follow a logical path. Within a year ,I went from feeling sad at the breakup of my family, to utter shock and disbelief. The family legal [...]

New On-Line Resources for Family SRLs

NSRLP recently reviewed 2 new – and quite different – on-line Canadian resources designed to assist and support family SRLs. Thistoo.co Thistoo offers a suite of free tools designed to obtain an accurate picture of the financial implications of divorce, including: child support, spousal support, and asset-splitting calculators. The site has 4 entry points: plan, organize, agree, resolve. Each category includes interactive and user-friendly tools which allow a user to gather and organize information, and also to actually move forward with their [...]

New Self-Help Book Geared Towards SRLs

In ”Representing Yourself in Court: How to Win Your Case on Your Own”, Devlin Farmer uses his experience as a lawyer to create a resource-rich tool that offers SRLs insight into complex court processes and the “tricks of the trade” used by lawyers. “Representing Yourself in Court” provides an overview of the process a SRL can expect, from beginning to end, when they file in family or civil court. Devlin encourages the reader to consider alternative dispute resolution methods prior [...]

Ontario Family Legal Services Review Offers Opportunity for Legal Profession to Show the Public it is Listening – and Cares

“Review announces sweeping changes in para-professional services for family law – help is on the way for families who cannot afford lawyers” “Review backs status quo – says paralegals “not ready” to deliver family legal services, leaving family litigants with limited or no choices” Submissions are now closed for the Ontario Family Legal Services Review, chaired by Madam Justice Bonkalo. Which headline will we be reading when the Review issues its September report? Facing the problem The Terms of Reference of the Bonkalo [...]

A Week of Contradictions: Why I Sometimes Feel Despair About the Profession I Love

Last week I received this year’s Mundell Medal for Legal Writing – a co-recipient with with my colleague, Mr. Justice Todd Archibald – from the Attorney-General of Ontario. This was a great honor, which was both genuinely gratifying – but also conflicting for me. Because after more than 30 years of offering “loving critique” of the legal profession and the justice system, I now find myself in more despair than ever. In the last few years, each time I attend a conference of [...]

Finally, Canadian Data on Case Outcomes: SRL vs. Represented Parties

For the past three years, ever since the publication of the National SRL Study, I have been regularly asked about the impact self-representation has on case outcomes. The original study focused on understanding the motivations, experience sand impact of self-representation. The majority (75%) of those interviewed were SRLs with cases still in progress. The remaining 25% were not asked about their outcomes directly, and few talked about it (this may surprise you, but the transcripts show this clearly). Instead, they wanted [...]

Unbundling “Unbundling”: Separating the Myths from the Realities

There is a noticeable increase in the amount of legal services being openly offered via limited-scope retainers or as unbundled legal services. More lawyers are advertising that they will offer unbundling There are more seminars and continuing legal education sessions on unbundling This is music to the ears of the thousands who are primarily self-represented people because they cannot afford full representation. It is also critical to the future of access to justice. As the UK Civil Justice Council reported in 2011 – [...]

Raising Consciousness, Deepening Knowledge & Building Bridges: SRLs and the Law Schools

Since the establishment of NSRLP in 2013, we have been looking for ways to humanize and normalize the experience of so many Canadians who now come to court without counsel – individuals who either began with a lawyer at their side but ran out of funds – or who found the traditional retainer + full-representation model of legal services simply unaffordable from the get-go. Throwback to “SRL for a Day” An early initiative was “SRL for a Day”, when we paired leading [...]

Self-Represented Litigants, Judges, and the NSRLP McKenzie Friend Guide

Guest blog by Judith M. DaSilva Just over a year ago, I approached Julie Macfarlane for supervision for my LLM. I had read her book “The New Lawyer” and loved how she thought about negotiation, and re-defining roles for lawyers and teaching methods for law students. Normally, she would have declined my request for supervision, given her schedule. My magical strategy – I suggested that perhaps I could do a piece of research for the NSRLP. The McKenzie Friend: Choosing [...]

Including the Public in A2J Consultations: A Grade Report Card for the Provinces – Guest Blog by Robert Harvie

Last summer, on behalf of the NSRLP, I sought some feedback on the extent to which Access to Justice initiatives across Canada were engaging actual litigants and/or self-represented litigants in developing their ideas, strategies and programs. A simple survey was mailed out to 44 respondents – essentially, every provincial and territorial government, the Federal government, each Law Society, each CBA branch and the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice – bodies we assumed would be most engaged in Access to Justice [...]

The Genie Jumps Out of the Bottle: Creative Access to Justice Solutions for Effective Legal Assistance

Something very important is rising on the Access to Justice horizon… In the last 3 months, CBC’s The National screened a documentary on the Access to Justice crisis and the huge increase in self-represented litigants. The National is regularly watched by just under 1 million people and the documentary is still being viewed on You Tube. In the few days that followed the documentary’s airing, NSRLP website views peaked. Many lawyers reported increased enquiries about limited scope services (unbundled legal services). [...]

The Loneliness of the Self-Represented Litigant

When her case was called, Maria (not her real name) walked towards the front table in the courtroom and, anxiously shifting her papers, asked the judge if she could have her sister sit with her during the hearing. She explained that she could not take notes and listen to what was being said at the same time, and her sister could help her by taking notes for her. Maria said that she had become so overwhelmed the last time [...]

Time for a National Database of Professionals Assisting SRLs: Affordable, Empowering, Entrepreneurial

NSRLP has started to create a National Database of Professionals Assisting SRLs. The goal is clear – SRLs need and want assistance, and a National Database could offer information on affordable assistance that provide at least a measure of access to justice for those who would wish to avail of them. But while a database is a simple idea, the path ahead for a National Database is challenging. There are many uncertainties and challenges, including logistical dilemmas over whom to include, [...]

If Careful Evidence-Based Reporting of Present-Day Realities in the Justice System Makes NSRLP “Political” – Then We Are Guilty as Charged

NSRLP continues to build support and gain supporters from across the legal establishment – judges, lawyers, para-legals, policy and court services folks and more. We are gratified to count among the many supporters of our work on self-represented litigants and access to justice leading members of the Bench, senior lawyers and regulators with wide influence in the profession, and policy chiefs in justice ministries and legal aid boards across Canada. And we receive constant appreciation from members of the public, [...]

Cuba 2016 – Challenging Our Thinking about Change

I have just returned from a week spent driving around Cuba, exploring small towns and big cities, and staying in people’s homes. In 2016, this is a country of enormous deprivation, colossal pride, and bubbling optimism. This may be an embarrassing disclosure of how preoccupied I am with thinking about access to justice issues – but trying to better understand Cuba, as it emerges from 50 years of isolation and poverty, gave me some new ways to think about our [...]

NSRLP’s Summary Judgment Research Report: Finding a Balance between Process Efficiency & Access to Justice

We received many, many, reactions to NSRLP’s Summary Judgment Report, published 6 weeks before the end of 2015. These responses to the Report remind us that a complex balance needs to be found between protecting a court’s and litigant’s time from unmeritorious actions, while protecting and ensuring Access to Justice. They illustrate perfectly the complexity of moving Access to Justice forward in an era in which more and more of those coming to court have no legal counsel, and many have [...]

Marking Our Report Card – Tell Us What You Think?

When the NSRLP Advisory Board met in Windsor two weeks ago, we looked back at our 2015 Strategic Plan (which you can read here) and talked about progress made towards our overarching goal – to raise public and justice system professionals’ awareness of the SRL phenomenon, and its impact on Access to Justice for Canadians. The NSRLP mandate Board member and former SRL Jennifer Muller summed up the NSRLP mandate as follows: “At the heart of our mandate is the intention to [...]

Public Confidence in Canadian Justice: A Rough Week

Last week the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) handed down its decision in the investigation of Justice Michel Déziel of the Quebec Superior Court. This case illustrates the extent to which the current CJC process works to protect judges, rather than to hold them accountable to the Canadian public. Justice Déziel has admitted that he handed over more than $30,000 from a private business to a municipal political party during a 1997 campaign, even though he knew that corporate donations were illegal. M. [...]

Beyond the Justice Camp Debacle: When the Public Asks Judges to be Accountable

Mr Justice Camp faces widespread criticism for his comments to a sexual assault victim (while sitting in the Alberta Provincial Court) about the need to keep her knees together and deploy other body contortions in order to escape her assailant – whom he then acquitted (this decision was overturned on appeal). The Justice Camp story has been prominent in the news for the last 10 days. It has led to a hasty announcement that Justice Camp would be removed from [...]

Summary Judgments – the backstory that may shock you

About a year ago, a NSRLP lawyer-volunteer began to regularly observe hearings taking place at a busy Toronto courthouse that included SRLs. She reported that she was seeing a number of procedural motions against SRLs. In these cases the SRL was usually bewildered and perplexed by what was happening – they had often come to court expecting to present their case for trial – and instead found that they were suddenly facing the dismissal of their action. And at the [...]

Time versus Value? Perspectives on Hourly Billing

By Heather Hui-Litwin*, guest blogger I still remember my first day of work at a large law firm. While I was hired as a Scientific Consultant and not a lawyer, the firm still asked me to docket: I would record all the time I spent working on each client file. I had never worked in a law firm before and I had no clue what docketing meant. The lawyer who was getting me settled in asked, “Are you okay with docketing?” [...]

My Realistic Revolution

As I enter my final year of legal education, I catch myself reminiscing about the student who entered 3 years ago and the lawyer I hope to be when I graduate from Windsor Law at the end of this year. When I first planned to attend law school, my idealistic application included optimistic sentiments such as my desire to “revolutionize the legal system.” With these type of ideas packed into my knapsack next to my freshly sharpened pencils, I was [...]

Wait a Minute: Has the Federal Election Campaign Been About Access to Justice All Along?

In last week’s blog, I bemoaned the fact that we had made little progress this election season in raising the desperate issue of access to affordable legal representation for the huge numbers of self-represented litigants in our courts. In that blog I compared the characterization – and demonization – of the “Other” which has been so dominant in this election campaign with the way that many see SRLs . This blog obviously struck a chord with many, both SRLs and [...]

Federal Election Issues, Self-Represented Litigants, and Fear of the Other

Since I have returned to Canada this week from a month “Down Under” (for my reports from Australia see “Access to Justice Down Under” and “Political Pressure and Federal Politics The View From Australia”, I have read and watched a lot of federal election coverage that shouts “fear of the Other”. “Other” is women wearing niqab, Syrian refugees, and sometimes Canadian Muslims in general. “Other” is scientists who challenge the government line on climate change, or academics who contest the so-called “Terror [...]

Access to Justice Down Under: Three Innovations to Consider

A lot is the same… As I approach the end of my month in Australia, I have found a lot of similarities in the challenges faced by people using the justice systems in New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria – the two most populated states with the largest legal professions in Australia – to those familiar to us in North America. Including: Growing numbers of self-represented litigants in family and civil courts Limited systems for collecting data about SRLs, and their impact [...]

A2J, Political Pressure and Federal Politics: The View from Australia

I’ve been in Sydney and Adelaide since the beginning of September, giving talks and workshops about the SRL research (like Canada and the US, Australia is facing an exponential rise in the numbers of those coming self-represented to the courts). Politically, it’s been a pretty exciting week for Australians. After weeks of intrigue, the ruling Liberal Party of Australia deposed their leader, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, on Monday evening. Not that this was so surprising to Australians, who have seen four PMs [...]

SRL Experience “the same” Both Sides of the Border: Preliminary Results from the US SRL Study

The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver IAALS has shared the preliminary results of their study “Cases without Counsel”. The IAALS study replicates the methodology of the Canadian SRL research, but gathered data from counties in 4 US states – Oregon, Colorado, Massachusetts and Tennessee. A reflection of the demographics of the counties studied, the US sample presently comprises a slightly larger low-income group and a slightly smaller mid/higher-income group than the [...]

Getting A2J onto the Political Agenda in the Federal Election

On October 19, Canadians will go to the polls to vote for federal representatives. There will be struggles over critical issues including the funding of public services, tax reform, immigration and social integration, and of course, leadership values and qualities. Will we hear anything about Access to Justice? So far, the answer looks like no. Access to Justice – affordable resolution processes, defence of core rights, legal protection of the vulnerable, and access to effective representation – is nowhere to [...]