Blog

As we continue to build followers to this blog, we are delighted to receive more and more comments and contributions. We very much encourage and welcome this – that is the point of promoting dialogue. However, in the interests of that dialogue, we want to ensure that this is done in a style that is always respectful towards all parties involved in this forum.

Frank, open and truthful debate is what we encourage. This is a topic on which many people feel very strongly and our aim is to convene a place for this discussion and exchange. However the Blog Editors reserve the right to edit or withhold posting comments which:

i) Could be seen as unlawful, obscene, defamatory, libelous, threatening, pornographic, harassing, hateful, racially or ethnically offensive, otherwise disruptive to civil debate on the blog, or encourage conduct that would be considered a criminal offence, give rise to civil liability, or violate any law.
ii) Publish falsehoods or misrepresentations
iii) Are personally harsh and unkind, and would violate the spirit of respectful dialogue that we are committed to promoting

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


“We have to start, and this is our beginning”

“We have to start, and this is our beginning” With these words, Howard Goldblatt, the Chair of the Ontario Law Society’s A2J Committee, ushered in a new era of regulatory reform in Ontario that finally recognizes the need for change. The first step is expanding paralegal services to include some family matters, a proposal vocally opposed by many in the Family Bar. A long awaited decision on Bonkalo Last February, the Bonkalo Review of Family Legal Services recommended expansion of paralegal services to [...]

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Access to Justice for the Victims of Sexual Violence

The disclosures of the last five weeks have been extraordinary. Not because it comes as any surprise to me (or to most other women) that there are powerful men who think they can impose themselves on women, often multiple women – physically, sexually, verbally – and who believe they will never be checked for their bad behavior.  This is part of almost all women’s lives. But now, suddenly, there is a feeling that people are listening. Not just listening to ridicule [...]

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SRLs with Disabilities: Dealing with a Double Whammy

One of the most eye-opening aspects of working on self-representation and Access to Justice is the way that the different needs of different groups are increasingly revealed to us. The crisis in affordable legal services affects the majority of our community. So it is unsurprising that particular interests and challenges that are associated with distinct demographics keep appearing. Members of these groups challenge us to consider their specific obstacles to and requirements for Access to Justice, if they are to feel [...]

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When Will Law Schools Confront the SRL Reality?

NSRLP is proud of our initiative to expose law students to the human face of the SRL crisis, and to bring them some much-needed data on the extent of and the reason for the SRL phenomenon. Especially so given that law school classes continue to bury/ suppress/ hide/ neglect/ ignore this information. Here is the Good News SRL Awareness Day (formerly Bring an SRL to Law School Day) went off well at Windsor, Osgoode and Western last week. Ottawa U and Queens [...]

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Time for a Podcast on A2J & Social Justice in Canada: Can We Bring the Two Solitudes Together?

A big part of our focus at the National Self-Represented Litigants Project since 2013 has been using every possible means to create a real conversation among the stakeholders in the justice system – which means not just legal professionals, but the Canadian public as well. We see the legal community as the stewards of the legal system, and the public as its inheritors. A sensible plan for a way forward out of the current A2J crisis or the “quagmire” as [...]

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Has A2J Become a Social Movement?

If A2J is a social movement, its identity and solutions will reflect the needs of users, not just the views of professionals The milestone that Labour Day represents seems a good time to take stock – and to look forward. This is a time of familiar rituals: schools back in session, evenings getting darker, people drifting back from vacations, and that chilled-out summer feeling is starting, sadly, to ebb away. Its seems a good time to broach a big question. Has A2J become [...]

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Putting the Brakes on Summary Judgments Against SRLs

At NSRLP we were thrilled to see the Ontario Court of Appeal decision in Khan v. Krylov & Company LLP (2017 ONCA 625) last week. The Court firmly put the brakes on the use of summary judgment procedures – here Ontario’s Rule 2.1 – to eliminate actions that are inadequately pleaded by SRLs. The judgment states: “Rule 2.1 is an extremely blunt instrument. It is reserved for the clearest of cases, where the hallmarks of frivolous, vexatious or abusive litigation are plainly [...]

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The Newer Lawyer and the Client Revolution

Last week the significantly revised second edition of my 2008 book The New Lawyer came out (available on Amazon, or take advantage of a 20% discount until August 15 at the UBC website, extended until September 15 if you are an SRL: code SRL20). This seems a good moment to evaluate what may have changed in the culture of legal practice over the almost ten years between editions (the new edition is affectionately nicknamed “The Newer Lawyer” by my colleagues [...]

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A Tale of Two Systems: A Modern-Day Fable

Our medical system is far from perfect – as a patient for the last seven years I am aware of many of its shortcomings. Some of the same tensions and challenges that are faced by the legal profession exist within the medical system. However, the medical system may be light years ahead of the legal profession in appreciating the importance of inter-related and complimentary roles and skills, and meeting the basic needs of its users. The following is based on [...]

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The Change & Advocacy Blog: How We Each Can Do Our Bit

We were honored by the award of another CLAWBIE for this blog at the end of 2016 in a new category called “Change & Advocacy. The new Clawbie category recognizes “blogs that drive positive change in the legal system.” I will face some challenges to my scholarship and activism in the coming months, as I go back into treatment for cancer. So this blog post is about how we can each find the motivation and the means to do our bit [...]

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What Do the Cosby Mistrial, Climate Change Denial, and Perceptions of SRLs Have in Common?

A Pennsylvania jury has failed to reach the necessary unanimous verdict in the prosecution of Bill Cosby for sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, leading the judge to declare a mistrial. My first reaction to this news, which I woke up to on Saturday morning was, predictably, anger. This was the only one of 33 similar fact complaints against Mr. Cosby that could be prosecuted because of the Statute of Limitations (which I am proud to say Ontario repealed in 2016 for [...]

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Law Convocation 2017: Be Smart, Be Idealistic, & Be Bold

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will know that I feel some despair about the state of legal education – that is, despair about the resilience of the archaic system norms, not my wonderful colleagues – and certainly not our law students. Over the past few weeks many law schools, including my own, have held Convocation for their graduating class. Assuming I shall never be invited to be a Convocation speaker (I think a fairly safe bet), [...]

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A Coach in Your Corner: Promoting Legal Coaching in Family Law

This week’s guest blogger is our 2017 Law Foundation Research Fellow, Nikki Gershbain. Nikki is the National Director of Pro Bono Students Canada, an organization that runs law student pro bono programs across Canada. A former family lawyer at Epstein Cole LLP, Nikki has a long history of working on Access to Justice, including serving on the Law Society’s Equity Advisory Group and co-directing the University of Toronto’s Middle-Income Access to Justice initiative. In January, I took a leave [...]

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Yes, We Can (With Reservations) – But No, They Can’t

As the clock ticks down on the deadline for comments on the Bonkalo recommendations (May 15), we are getting some clear signals of the legal establishment’s response. Yes, We Can Justice Bonkalo’s endorsement of unbundled legal services and legal coaching has been met with some questions and continued reservations, but a good degree of openness by the Family Bar. The Family Bar appears to have set aside their entrenched resistance to anything other than full representation. In the weeks since the publication [...]

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We Need to Help Family Litigants – Now

When the Bonkalo Report was released in February, I felt optimistic that its central recommendation – to allow licensed, trained paralegals to work on some types of family files – would be met with perhaps resignation but also broad acceptance by the Family Bar, given the enormous numbers of family litigants who are without any type of legal assistance whatsoever. No one – not even perennially optimistic me! – imagined that the Family Bar would immediately embrace every detail of [...]

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“This Case is About A2J – and About Insiders and Outsiders”

The Supreme Court of Canada’s unanimous decision in Pintea v Johns (heard April 18, 2017) was delivered from the bench by Justice Karakatsanis. But even before a decision was rendered, it was very apparent that the Court took seriously the challenges that SRL’s face, and the need to adjust and adapt to ensure that they have Access to Justice. Here I offer a brief summary that I hope conveys the tone and flavor of the hearing (which I attended along [...]

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Why I Work With Julie and the National Self-Represented Litigants Project

This week’s guest blog is written by Cynthia Eagan, who has worked with the NSRLP since 2012. Cynthia is a former librarian in the Detroit Public Library system, a literacy expert, and is presently retraining to be a massage therapist. In her blog, Cynthia explains why she feels a connection to self-represented litigants, and how she was drawn to work with NSRLP. Way back when I was in library school, there was a legal skirmish between California’s Nolo Press and [...]

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Case Law Research is like Cheesecake

This week’s guest blog is written by Cynthia Freitag, a Law Clerk and an active member of the Toronto chapter of the National Self-Represented Litigants Network (NSSN). As a self-represented litigant (SRL) you are, in fact, your own lawyer. This means you need to learn how a lawyer carries out legal research, what they research, and why they research, in order to represent yourself the best way you can. This means learning about case law. When lawyers prepare for trial they [...]

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Why Family Lawyers Should Consider Getting Behind the Bonkalo Recommendations

Justice Bonkalo’s long-anticipated report and recommendations on the future of family legal services in Ontario has provoked an outpouring of reaction from the Family Bar. Most of the response has been negative, expressing reservations, alarm and even fear. We should not be surprised by this, given the tenor of the submissions made by a number of leading family law organizations to Justice Bonkalo before she finalized her Report. The opposing voices that defend the status quo – and reject Bonkalo’s [...]

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Part Two: Making it Real – A Legal Education in the Public Interest

Part One of this blog (The End of a Love Affair? Why I Despair About Legal Education) was pretty bleak. It articulated my frustrations with the disconnect between legal education and the realities of legal practice and client service, and our slow steps towards meaningful change. It also clearly resonated with many of you whom I heard from last week. In that earlier piece, I highlighted three fundamental disconnects: Law school classes rarely describe or simulate the work that lawyers actually do. [...]

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The End of a Love Affair? Why I Despair About Legal Education

(Part 2 of this blog is “Making it Real: A Legal Education in the Public Interest”) When I became a law professor more than thirty years ago, I was convinced that legal education was a powerful tool to shape legal practice in the future by instilling a client-focused philosophy, and the skills and ethics that would foster this. Intoxicated by the possibilities of using education to change the adversarial culture of legal practice, I was a law school junkie – dropping [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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, [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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: https://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 [...]

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Introducing the National Database of Professionals Assisting SRLs!

Today the National Self-Represented Litigants Project is launching a project five months in the making – the National Database of Professionals Assisting SRLs. Every day self-represented litigants contact us looking for affordable legal assistance. As you are aware, studies show that full representation by a lawyer is unaffordable for not just the very poor, but for ordinary middle-income Canadians. This growing National Database contains the names of dozens of lawyers (as well as paralegals, and other professionals offering therapeutic support and [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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“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, [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 – [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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). [...]

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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 [...]

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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, [...]

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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, [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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. [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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?” [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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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 [...]

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We’re Back! Reflections on how the Conversation has Shifted

There’s nothing like a vacation to give a sense of perspective. NSRLP’s summer break provided the chance for an evaluation of how far we have been able to affect the national conversation about self-represented litigants (SRLs) – where that conversation has moved from, and where it has moved to. The first blog I wrote in this series – almost exactly three years ago on June 16, 2012 – was called “The Two Solitudes” (https://representingyourselfcanada.com/2012/06/16/the-two-solitudes/). The image was of two radically [...]

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5 Ways to Talk about A2J Over a Summer BBQ

For the last three months, NSRLP has been focusing on the theme of “communication” and its importance in making progress towards greater access to justice in Canada. If we cannot talk to one another, we cannot have the type of rich stakeholder discussion and debate that is necessary to begin to resolve such a complex problem (look back at our kick-off blog on “The Shut-Up Culture” at https://representingyourselfcanada.com/2015/04/07/the-shut-up-culture-why-we-need-to-speak-openly-boldly-respectfully-to-one-other-about-what-really-matters; and the conversation between one SRL and three members of the NSRLP [...]

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Incarcerating Self-Represented Litigants for Overzealous Advocacy

The question I am asking in this blog is a simple but shocking one. Should we be imprisoning self-represented litigants for objecting to and even resisting particular outcomes – in short, for being overzealous advocates? This is far more complex than a simple legal question. We know that the law of civil contempt allows for imprisonment where a court order is breached. The question posed here is a much harder one. When an individual advocates – non violently, but zealously [...]

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Welcoming Legal Aid Ontario’s New Funding – and Asking Some Important Questions

Last week’s announcement by Legal Aid Ontario of new funding of $154 million over four years (http://www.legalaid.on.ca/en/news/newsarchive/1506-08_eligibilityexpansion.asp) was the biggest cause for celebration among A2J advocates in a long time. At a time of unprecedented numbers of self-represented litigants in family and civil court, every effort to widen the number of individuals who can be assisted with legal information, summary legal advice, and legal representation (via the certificate program) is welcome. Last week’s announcements also introduced important targeting of service [...]

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Lessons for Tarion from the SRL Phenomenon

It’s time to write about Tarion Tarion – the corporation responsible for Ontario government’s new home warranty program as well as the appointed regulator of the building industry – has been in the news for the last 6 months (see for example, http://www.thestar.com/business/personal_finance/2015/06/02/couple-fights-tarion-for-home-warranty-roseman.html). There have been complaints about slow and bureaucratic procedures that seem to favor builders both substantively and as a matter of practice (inevitably Tarion staff work repeatedly with industry representatives). I have held off blogging about Tarion until [...]

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Take the Pledge: We Are Legal Service Professionals, not Lawyers and non-Lawyers

I remember the first time someone pointed out to me – it was the legal sociologist Craig McEwen whose work on dispute resolution and lawyers I found inspirational – that lawyers were one of the only professions that had a special name for those who were “not” them. The only other occupations that we could come up with then which assign a special term to the “other” (not them) were the military (the rest of us are “civilians”); and the [...]

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Communication Challenges for Lawyers – or the Pull of Marketing Legal Services?

One of the most thoughtful and reflective SRLs to have worked with NSRLP over the last three years, Derek Parry (see his story here), made the following astute observation in a talk to Windsor law students Bring a SRL to Law School Day about where things often begin to “go wrong” in communications between lawyer and client. “When a potential client, involved in a divorce proceeding or some such case, first meets with you, they are often consumed by a [...]

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We Were Promised a Plain Language Revolution, But All I Got Was this T-shirt with a Slogan On It

I do not usually begin my blog with a lengthy quotation. However in this case, I make no apology. Please read on… “In the mid 1970s, I prepared a report for the Law Reform Commission of Canada entitled “Access to the Law”. The study found … that the law is not in an accessible form, such that it can be readily found and understood by non-lawyers or, I should add, by many lawyers. Few laypersons know where to start… I am [...]

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Must-Read: A Message from the NSRLP to Voters in the LSUC Election

Very shortly now, (April 30), votes will be cast and counted in the Law Society of Upper Canada’s 2015 Benchers Election. By Friday 40 Benchers will have been either elected or re-elected. At NSRLP, we have received numerous bulletins from candidates, many of which refer to Access to Justice issues. The recent establishment of the LSUC Treasurer’s Action Group, which we hope will show leadership and give clear direction, institutionally reinforces this trend. Some candidate “manifestos” encourage a sense that A2J [...]

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Dear NSRLP Advisory Board…A Letter From a SRL

Last week we received the following letter from SRL Jan Steen. As you will read below, Jan had just concluded a seven-year legal action as a SRL. He sent his letter to be shared with the NSRLP Advisory Board, and below three of our Board members write back to Jan, acknowledging the difficulty and frustration of the SRL experience and describing how NSRLP is committed to working on answers in collaboration with other justice system players. We are publishing Jan’s [...]

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If you still think that SRLs are excited to be trying out as “lawyers”, watch this new VLOG

The most common misunderstanding that we encounter when we speak about the 2013 Research Study results is that people are representing themselves in court for reasons including: they believe that they can do as good a job as a lawyer; they are enjoying the challenge of self-representation; or even, this is their chance to get even with the other side by directly confronting them. The 2013 Research Study – as well as other studies and investigations in Canada, the US, [...]

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Not De Cruz – but the SRL Case You Should Have Been Paying Attention To This Week

Two cases came down on March 27, 2015, one in Ontario and one in Saskatchewan. Please can the news report the significant cases (and not just the salacious ones)? A “meaningless” (against a “judgment-proof” party) costs award in the divorce case of De Cruz v Lee (2015 ONSC 2012: www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2015/2015onsc2012/2015onsc2012.html) was widely covered in the press and on social media this week. The reason for the media frenzy was the graphic and saddening personal details of this Ontario Superior Court case, [...]

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The Shut-Up Culture – Why We Need to Speak Openly, Boldly, & Respectfully to One Other about What Really Matters

NSRLP is about to begin a 3-month focus on the theme of communication. We shall be examining: How lawyers communicate with clients about what is important to them How the legal profession communicates with the public How the judiciary communicates with individual SRLs and with the public How SRLs communicate with those working inside the justice system about their frustrations and needs Our communication culture The first communication problem we have inside the justice system is that we – the “insiders” – aren’t very good at [...]

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Unheard Voices and a Listening Ear – a Law Student SRL Coaching Experience

Contributed by William Good, Law 3, University of Windsor and Volunteer, NSRLP The legal education system aims to produce students who will meet the needs of the legal market.  However, it only achieves this goal in a general sense having missed the needs of potential clients who are often regarded as peripheral to the major market destination for graduating law students – large firms serving primarily corporation clients. This is unfortunate because there is an exponential increase in those who are [...]

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The Meter is Ticking: The Everyday Real Costs of Family Litigation 

Pulling up curbside outside the courthouse, Jeanne is looking at a FULL sign outside the adjacent parking lot. Darn. She leans down to rummage through the glove compartment for change – the parking meters are only for one hour here, but at least that should give her time to run in and file her documents at the registry this morning – that is, if there isn’t a long line up and hopefully that guy who always wants to talk endlessly [...]

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Chasing Down the Data: How Doubtful Assertions about SRLs Sometimes Become “Facts”

As a researcher, one of the things I have noticed over the years is the tendency for an anecdote to morph into a definitive research finding – and to sometimes take on a life of its own, repeated over and over. Similarly, “canned” references to a research study which simplify and even distort the original study findings in order to reinforce a particular argument or perspective. Why This Matters Who cares? Maybe you are already switching off assuming that this blog [...]

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Alleviating Client “Suffering” – the Changing Nature of Client Care

An article in last week’s New York Times Doctors Strive to do Less Harm by Inattentive Care described a new development in medical practice that focuses doctors on the alleviation of patient “suffering” – instead of simply following routine procedures. This approach urges doctors to talk directly with their patients about not only their illness, but also how they are feel about their treatment. It encourages hospitals to survey patients about their experiences of treatment and care. The best example [...]

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Playing the Game: Reconciling Legal Education with the Challenges of Self-Representation

In her article “The Reality of Pro Se Representation”, Judge Owens compares the self-represented litigant (SRL) experience to a childhood game. Just like ‘Hide & Seek’ or ‘Hopscotch’, the courtroom consists of specific rules and if a litigant does not follow the rules, they are out of the game. Owens goes on to inquire “If you don’t know the rules to the game, how can you win?”[1] My name is Erin Chesney and I am a law student at the [...]

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The Empathy Deficit : Why So Many Lawyers Believe Their Job is to be a Jerk

“What’s the difference between a good lawyer and a bad lawyer? A bad lawyer can let a case drag out for several years. A good lawyer can make it last even longer.” This definition of “good” is not quite what Doug Linder & Nancy Levit have in mind in their new book, The Good Lawyer: Seeking Quality in the Practice of Law (OUP 2014). In fact, Linder & Levit’s taxonomy of “good lawyer” qualities might surprise you. Beginning with #1, empathy (empathy? yes [...]

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From One SRL to Another: Holding Fast to the “Real You” Before You Plunge into the SRL Abyss

This week’s guest blogger is a former SRL who today, four years on, works in the justice system. She looks back at her difficult and distressing experience as a SRL with all the wisdom of hindsight. She appraises the impact on her as a parent, as a friend, and on her work. Her message to other SRLs is that you are not alone. What is more, many, many SRLs (and our still growing database of SRL stories attest to [...]

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Dear Julie: Diary of a Self-Represented Litigant

This week’s guest blogger is an anonymous SRL who wrote me the following message this last week. Their story is typical of the messages we receive on a daily basis at NSRLP. As just a small slice of life as a SRL, this story encapsulates many of the systemic challenges faced by SRLs – even those with legal training – in seeking to access the justice system. It also harkens back to our discussion of the deficiencies of the [...]

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Stereotypes Hold Us Back: Challenging Our Assumptions about A2J with Real Data

A deeply shocking blog written by a former lawyer on the subject of “Licensed Legal Technicians” (a pilot program in some US states) crossed my screen earlier this week. Shocking because the premise of the blog is that many low-income people are “venal” scammers, “pathological liars” pretending to be poor when really they have greater resources, and generally “difficult to represent.” The author (Shannon Achimalbe) continues, “They have unrealistic demands. They refuse to pay unless a certain outcome is guaranteed. …(E)ven [...]

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Paying for Legal Services with Time rather than Value: the Billable Hour & its Consequences for Clients

The recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision in Bank of Nova Scotia v. Diemer (2014 ONCA 851) represents a watershed in judicial forthrightness about the many disadvantages of the billable hour model. While this case involved a receivership under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (R.S.C. 1985), the reasoning and decisions are relevant to growing concerns about the use of the billable hour model in personal legal services. The Tenacity of the Billable Hour Model We know that many corporations have rejected external [...]

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New Year Wishes: 5 Excuses for Not Involving the Public in A2J Reform to Leave Behind in 2014

I have a New Year wish. Please can we stop repeating these hackneyed excuses for not including the public – “not now, not yet, not those members of the public, not like that…” – in discussions over justice system reform and improving access to justice in Canada in 2015? No one is suggesting that we appoint a panel of (gasp!) “non-lawyers” to overhaul the justice system. All that we are asking for at NSRLP is that those people now working very [...]

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Our Pitch to Santa (with the help of Aretha Franklin): Asking the Public to Support Legal Aid in Canada

Over the last few weeks, we have been asking what you might ask Santa – eloquently described in one response as “…the sublime intangible myth” – for Access to Justice in Canada in the new year. Our Letter to Santa is published at https://representingyourselfcanada.com/2014/12/15/dear-santa In today’s blog we are publishing in full a letter to Santa written by Karen Hudson, QC, Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Commission and executive member of the Association of Legal Aid Plans of [...]

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A Year-in-Review: Goodbye to the Plastic Raincoat, Hello to Access to Justice Centres

We have been thinking back to the end-of-year 2013 at the NSRLP this week. Our December 2013 newsletter featured reports from the National Action Committee on Access to Justice roadshows, where we had been agitating for months to include a SRL. We had just announced that the Canadian SRL Study would be duplicated in the United States by a team at IAALS at the University of Denver. In my blog, I was writing about our emerging ideas about legal coaching. Then on [...]

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Checking Our Egos and Accepting Our Part is Fundamental to Restoring Public Trust in the Justice System

This week’s guest blogger is Rob Harvie, a family lawyer, Law Society of Alberta Bencher and member of the NSRLP Advisory Board. After numerous conversations about this topic over the last 18 months, I asked Rob to write the blog to kick off our theme for December “Rebuilding Public Trust in the Justice System” (Action Step #10). Rob has consistently engaged with SRLs and others in commentaries on the NSRLP Blog, and is genuinely committed to developing an inclusive dialogue. [...]

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The Psychological Costs of Seeking Civil Justice

This week’s guest blogger is Professor Noel Semple, our colleague at the Faculty of Law University of Windsor and a member of the NSRLP Advisory Board. Noel is working with the original study database to probe the psychological and other social costs of self-representation, and this piece describes some of those impacts on SRLs. Tackling your own legal problem without a lawyer may save money – that’s usually why people do it. But that doesn’t mean that self-representation is cost-free. [...]

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The Reality Disconnect: How Hierarchical Decision-Making is Holding Back Progress on Access to Justice in Canada

In the 18 months since the Dialogue Event – a justice system stakeholder forum held at the Faculty of Law University of Windsor, bringing together members of the public (SRLs) and judges, lawyers and policymakers – I have spent a great deal of time talking with, exchanging ideas among, and generally tracking developments in a revitalized “Access to Justice Sector” emerging across Canada. The A2J Sector: Who are We? Members of what I am dubbing the A2J Sector include judges, regulators [...]

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It’s Over But We Cannot Afford to Divorce

Access to Justice, Self-Representation and the Non-Divorced During November, NSRLP is focusing on the social impact of self-representation. Action Step #9 calls for new and better efforts to “measure the social cost of self-representation”. What do we know so far? Personal consequences of self-representation We are right at the very beginning of really understanding – thinking about even – the myriad consequences of the large and growing numbers of people representing themselves in family and civil court. The National Self-Represented Litigants Study described [...]

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Law Libraries Accept the SRL Challenge

Law Libraries Accept the SRL Challenge This week’s blog is written by Annette Demers[1], Acting Law Librarian and Sessional Lecturer, University of Windsor, Melanie Hodges Neufeld, Director of Legal Resources, Law Society of Saskatchewan, and Dale Barrie, Information, Research and Training Services (IRTS) Manager, Alberta Law Libraries. We welcome the input of guest bloggers and send a big thank you to Annette, Melanie and Dale for this very pertinent blog as we close off our month of focus on Legal [...]

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Everything You (Lawyer/Prospective Lawyer) Ever Wanted to Know About SRLs, But Were Afraid to Ask: A Proposed SRL Curriculum

“Law school offers students and faculty an alternative reality to practice. The actual work and changing tasks of lawyers are either not discussed at all, or are presented as a misleading picture of constant trial work and heroic fights against oppression and wrongdoers. Few, if any, law school classes allude to the realities of the changes in legal practice described in this book…” I wrote this in 2008 in the final chapter of The New Lawyer. Six years later, it [...]

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We Need to Bring the SRL Phenomenon into Legal Education – But First, We Have to Bring Working with Clients into the Law School Curriculum

We Need to Bring the SRL Phenomenon into Legal Education – But First, We Have to Bring Working with Clients into the Law School Curriculum The enormous rise in the number of self-represented litigants in the justice system opens up the challenges of working with a new and different constituency of consumers and clients for which legal education must prepare lawyers and judges. The SRL phenomenon requires legal educators like myself to identify the new knowledge and skills that prospective [...]

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A Society of Equals?  In Search of Genuine Dialogue over the Open Letter

Exactly 400 years ago, a group of “commoners” sent a letter to the French nobility, asking to be treated with greater respect “as their younger brothers”. The nobles responded with horror to being addressed at all by the commoners, and in what they saw as presumptuous terms. “(They) took this appeal as an insult.” (Pierre Rosanvallon, The Society of Equals, 2013). The nobility petitioned the King saying that they were profoundly insulted by the request and asking him “to remind [...]

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A Tale of Two Articles: Two Different Stories about Self-Representation

A Tale of Two Articles: Two Different Stories about Self-Representation On Monday September 22nd, the Law Times and Lawyers Weekly both carried articles on self-representation http://www.lawtimesnews.com/201409224205/headline-news/unrepresented-litigants-make-plea-for-compassion http://www.lawyersweekly.ca/index.php?section=article&volume=34&number=19&article=3 There was a striking contrast between the two stories. These offer some important insights into the current debate – within the legal community and among the public – about self-representation. The Open Letter to the Canadian Judiciary Leading with the headline “Unrepresented Litigants Make Plea for Compassion”, the Law Times covered the Open Letter to the Judiciary [...]

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An Open Letter to the Canadian Judiciary: a First Step towards a Dialogue between Reasonable People?

An Open Letter to the Canadian Judiciary: a First Step towards a Dialogue between Reasonable People? One of the projects we have been working on at NSRLP for this month’s Action Step focus – Judges and SRLs – is an “Open Letter”, written by a group of self-represented litigants, addressed to the Canadian Judiciary. The “Open Letter” – which is reproduced below – is the result of discussions and debate between myself and a group of ten SRLs whom I approached [...]

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Judges and SRLs: Moving the Conversation out of the Courtroom, and into a Meeting Place for Reasonable People

Judges and SRLs: Moving the Conversation out of the Courtroom, and into a Meeting Place for Reasonable People This month at the NSRLP we are focusing on Action Step #7, Judges and SRLs. This blog aims to kick off this conversation and challenges us to find a place where the experiences of judges with SRLs, and the experiences of SRLs with judges, can be shared, heard and understood. How SRLs relate to judges The National SRL Study Final Report (devoted a whole [...]

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Dutch Justice Innovation Puts People First: Realizing the Potential of On-Line Dispute Resolution

This week’s guest blog is written by Sherry MacLennan, Director of Public Legal Information & Applications at the BC Legal Services Society. Sherry, who is also a member of the NSRLP Advisory Board, offered to blog about her up-close look at an innovative on-line application being developed in the Netherlands via a collaborative partnership between the Dutch legal aid board, a non-profit research organization and a software developer. The emphasis the program places on support towards resolution brings to [...]

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Donna’s Story: How the Adversarial System Thwarts Resolution, Escalates Conflict & Creates Nightmares

Donna (not her real name) first contacted NSRLP in the early days of our research interviews in 2011. Bright, educated, and motivated (Donna works at a community not-for-profit), Donna does not fit the crazy, anti-social, dysfunctional SRL stereotype that we have found ourselves working to challenge. She never imagined that her life and the lives of her children would get trapped in a vortex of escalating conflict with no end in sight. But in many ways, her story typifies [...]

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How – and Why – Lawyers and Mediators Can Help to Make Mediation Work for SRLs

In my blog last week I referred to the frequent complaints I hear from lawyers and others in the justice system about the difficulty of reaching settlement in a case where one side is representing themselves.   I suggested that while it may indeed be more difficult for a case to settle when there is a SRL on one side, there are some fairly obvious reasons for this – and that if we were to examine these, we might be able [...]

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Supporting SRLs to Work Towards Settlement – Let’s Work Together to Make LAO’s Initiatives Work

This week Legal Aid Ontario announced two new programs (http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2014/07/03/legal_aid_hopes_to_discourage_feuding_couples_from_acting_as_own_lawyers.html) that signal a renewed commitment to assisting family law litigants and acknowledge the importance of early intervention and support to help families avoid protracted and escalated disputes. Each of the initiatives announced by LAO accept the overriding importance of offering divorcing couples substantial assistance to reach agreement over the terms of their separation via either private negotiation (up to 10 certificate hours) or in mediation (up to 6 hours). Both [...]

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Looking Back at How We Got Here, Looking Forward to Change: The Long Road Back to a Civil Justice System (2)

Last week (https://representingyourselfcanada.com/2014/06/22/just-most-expeditious-and-least-expensive-the-long-road-back-to-a-civil-justice-system) I tried to show how many SRLs share the critiques made by Mr Justice Brown in his end-of-term speech to the Ontario Bar Association (2014.OBA.Civil.end.term.paper.june.14)). In discussions around the country with judges and lawyers I hear growing numbers complain that civil procedure is today focused on interim procedural “motions combat”, instead of adjudication on the merits. The last decade has seen a huge rise in motions and pre-trial activities (as well as many new rules on such [...]

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“Just, most expeditious and least expensive”: the Long Road Back to a Civil Justice System

I can think of no better way to frame what I would like to say in this week’s blog – on our monthly theme of “Clearer and Simpler Court Forms & Processes for SRLs” – than Mr. Justice David Brown’s remarkable end-of-term speech to the Ontario Bar Association last week (2014.OBA.Civil.end.term.paper.june.14) Justice Brown’s speech is a call to order for those who are going to be the future of the profession to take seriously just how far the courts have [...]

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“No claim for pooping and scooping into the neighbour’s garbage”: but SRLs deserve to present reasonable claims and not be halted by procedures they do not understand

There has been a lot of chatter on social media about the Forest Hill neighbour dispute (Morland-Jones v. Taerk (2014 ONSC 3061)). Justice Morgan was obliged to point out to the plaintiffs in that case that “…a court cannot order the Defendants to be nice to the Plaintiffs….(t)here is no claim for pooping and scooping into the neighbour’s garbage can… Likewise, there is no claim for looking at the neighbour’s pretty house, parking a car legally but with malintent, [...]

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Self-Represented Litigants (and Law Students) Are Not the Enemy

Sometimes the discourse about SRLs that emanates from some of our embattled members of the Bench – who are presently experiencing a seismic shift in the ground on which they stand as they face more and more people without counsel in their courtrooms – has been reminding me of another, earlier discourse. This was one I heard 20 or more years ago when I first came to Canada and worked at the now-defunct Canadian Law Teaching Clinic, offering teacher coaching [...]

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Duty Counsel Un-Plugged: How We Need to Evolve Public Legal Services to Respond to the SRL Phenomenon

In the course of the National SRL Study, I interviewed around a dozen duty counsel in courthouses across Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. I loved conducting these interviews. Duty counsel are incredibly dedicated to what they do and have innumerable frank and insightful observations to share in relation to my standard questions –  “What changes have you seen in the SRL population over the last 3-5 years?” “What is their (SRLs) most common frustration?” and “What is your greatest frustration [...]

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Let’s Dare to Dream: Customer Service in the Courthouse of the Future?

During the course of the original National SRL Study, I was sometimes told  – by court staff, duty counsel and others working in public legal services– that SRLs came to the courthouse expecting it to offer them a customer-service model “like the passport office or the vehicle licensing office” – or, worse still, “like Wal-Mart.” Obviously, some laughed, the justice system could not function like other service experiences. Maybe not. Certainly the public cannot buy “justice”. But what if we [...]

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US: Celebrating One Year of Hard Work and Important Achievements for the NSRLP in the cause of the SRL Phenomenon

It is exactly a year now since we held the Dialogue Event at the Faculty of Law, University of Windsor, bringing together SRLs and judges, lawyers, legal profession leaders, government policymakers and court services managers to talk about the SRL Phenomenon, and to recognize its impact on us all (https://representingyourselfcanada.com/2013/05/07/opening-the-dialogue-event-report/). Those two and a half days had a remarkable effect, I would be so bold as to suggest, on everyone who participated. There was truly an opening of the eyes for [...]

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Culture Change in the Family Justice System: a talk to the BC Family Justice Summit

As the pressure for change ramps up, we are talking a lot about “culture change” in the justice system. If we are going to throw this term around, we have to be ready to confront what it really means. “Culture change” does not mean tinkering with the works (as in, let’s shorten the time period for discoveries or the number of expert witnesses who can be called in a trial). It does not mean “filling the gaps” (as is, let’s [...]

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Don’t Leave Me, Please Help Me, But Do it Differently: A Plea to the Bar

This month we have been focusing (Action Step #3) on examining ways that the private Bar might respond to the SRL Phenomenon. In my final blog this month on this issue, I want to pull back the veil on what SRLs and others are saying about what they would like from lawyers.  The central message from both my own  research which focused on SRLs, and from other studies looking at the concerns of the general public, is highly consistent.  [...]

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Denial Narratives: 5 Ways to Respond to the SRL Phenomenon that will Move Us Backwards, not Forwards

I try to be optimistic and upbeat in this blog. I am optimistic by nature, and I believe that although the SRL Phenomenon faces us with a dizzying array of challenges – whether as lawyers, judges, policymakers, court staff or a member of the public – we can and shall find ways for the justice system can develop a realistic contemporary approach to what we used to call access to justice. However this morning I am felling pretty beat up. Not [...]

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Taking Private Legal Services in for a Tune-Up

I have absolutely no interest or capacity in car mechanics. Long ago, when I could barely afford to fill my car with gas, I shamelessly cultivated friendships with mechanically handy friends in order to avoid any hands-on responsibility for “fixing” anything or, as a last resort, to provide me with a skilled intermediary if I had to take my vehicle in to a garage for some work. Despite this, I am embarrassed to report that I often listen to the [...]

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Our Collective Responsibility for Judicial Rudeness: Time to Press Reset

As a finale to our month of focus on “Listening to SRLs and including them as stakeholders”, I want to explore a legal culture that enables and tolerates judges treating SRLs rudely and discourteously. I do not mean to suggest that all judges behave this way. There are honorable exceptions and I hope they will take some support from this blog post. For example, I did not notice any Supreme Court justices sniggering behind their hands at Elizabeth Bernard when she [...]

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We Need to Get Family Justice Services and A2J on to the Political Agenda: The View from British Columbia

I have just returned from three days in British Columbia (Victoria and Vancouver) spent talking about the SRL Phenomenon – the numbers, its impact, and what kinds of change are needed to even begin to address the crisis in justice services. I spoke with government officers and staff, lawyers, law students, judges and mediators. I was ably assisted in communicating the urgency of the problem by three local SRLs from the NSRLP Speakers Bank (thank you to Jennifer Muller, Liz Dohan and [...]

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The Great Equalizer: Why Both Represented & Self-Represented Litigants are Asking the Same Questions about the A2J Crisis

We know that the experience of self-representation in our justice system is remarkably consistent. It takes enormous work and effort. It is a frustrating, stressful and often an interminably long experience. There are some good days – and many bad days. And even those few whose good days outnumber their bad days acknowledge the very same work, effort, frustration and stress. Self-representation is a great Equalizer Our study data demonstrated that this experience is consistent across courts and provinces. Being a SRL is a great [...]

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New York State introduces “SRL Navigators”: Can We Narrow Judicial Discretion on Allowing McKenzie Friends into Canadian Courtrooms?

Last week Justice Jonathan Lippman – Chief Judge of New York State – announced a pilot program that will allow non-lawyer “Navigators” to accompany SRLs to housing court in Brooklyn, and to consumer debt cases in Brooklyn and the Bronx. The Navigators will not be permitted to address the court, but will be able to respond to questions from the judge and generally assist the SRL. Chief Justice Lippman is implementing recommendations made by the New York Task Force to [...]

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Realizing the Pro Bono Potential of the “Third Flank”: Suggestions for What Every Lawyer Who Cares about A2J Can Do (Right Now)

Last week’s blog “’Lawyers do more pro bono work than any other profession”: Why Pro Bono Will Not and Can Not Save Us from the A2J Crisis” sparked some interesting reactions and afforded me some useful insights. One was that the profession really does operate in a series of parallel universes when it comes to pro bonowork. There is a big difference between the daily reality of lawyers who offer services pro bono (usually as volunteers in pro bono programs), and those who do not. Those lawyers [...]

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“Lawyers do more pro bono work than any other profession”. Why Pro Bono Will Not and Can Not Save Us from the A2J Crisis

I have many times heard lawyers make the following statement (often with some irritation or a measure of defensiveness) “You know, lawyers do more pro bono work than any other profession.” Accepting that it is indeed true that some lawyers are remarkable in their commitment to pro bono services, either as part of their private practice or as salaried employees of public legal services, I think this statement needs probing a little further. There is a feeling of “let them eat cake” [...]

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Please Don’t Make Me: Why is Acknowledging and Talking about the A2J Problem with the Public So Hard?

“I think I would tell them this is a system that has worked for 200 years and I believe that it is the best system that we could have.” At a provincial bar association conference last summer, I challenged a group of lawyers about how might we talk to the public about the access to justice crisis. The discussion did not go so well.  The statement above was (almost) the entirety of the audience’s response. I had introduced this discussion – following [...]

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Now You See Them, Now You Don’t: Your Clients are Just Loaned to You by VISA, You Do Not Own Them

I heard this week from a veteran family lawyer, esteemed in her community and a published author. She was reflecting on what might be the most important single finding of my research with SRLs –  corroborated over and over by lawyers across the country in conversations over the last 12 months. More than half – 53% – of my sample began with a lawyer. They went out and hired a lawyer when they or their spouse wanted a divorce; or when [...]

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Querulous Litigants or Distressed Citizens: Who Are We To Judge?

Beginning February, NSRLP will be promoting one of our Ten Action Steps for Change each month. The first of these, and the focus for February, is How We Think About Change. Our hope is to raise the level of debate about what change means for the justice system and the legal profession in the face of the huge increase in the number of SRLs and the crisis in access to justice. On the heels of the National Action Committee Colloquium in [...]

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We’re Getting Started – Are You Coming With Us? A First Legal Coaching Experiment

I have been blogging recently about developing a legal coaching model for responding to and assisting SRLs (https://representingyourselfcanada.com/2013/12/14/seriously-lawyers-coaching-srls-in-self-advocacy/; https://representingyourselfcanada.com/2013/12/18/providing-legal-services-in-a-coaching-model-the-what-why-and-how/) There has been a tremendous response to these blogs, with more and more people inside the justice system joining in this debate. Many recognize the potential of a limited scope approach that offers more than “just” legal advice but is focused on properly equipping a SRL to continue to self-represent – because that is what they are going to do. A legal coaching [...]

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Let’s Make and Keep Some New Year Resolutions about Access to Justice

Over the past 12 months, there has been extensive study, analysis, and debate about the state of access to justice in Canada – verdict, abysmal – and over the tsunami wave of self-represented litigants who cannot afford a lawyer and do not qualify for increasingly limited public assistance – conclusion, self-representation is at a record-breaking level. Moving into 2014 offers an opportunity to set some concrete and realistic benchmarks for change (I prefer this to the CBA’s march towards 2030 [...]

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Providing Legal Services in a Coaching Model: the What, Why, and How

Returning to the question of whether, and how, lawyers could provide coaching in self-advocacy for SRL’s, let me first put a few pertinent findings from my 2013 SRL study upfront. 86% of the (n=259) SRLs in my study told me that they had sought the assistance of a lawyer – via either the private Bar, a pro bono service, or Legal Aid. 53% had originally had counsel representing them; a further 33% sought pro bono legal services (although they did not always qualify for [...]

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Seriously? Lawyers Coaching SRLs in Self-Advocacy?

Much of what I heard from SRLs in my 2011-12 study – and continue to hear in the mail we receive daily at the National Self-Represented Litigants Project  – centred on what type of assistance they really wanted and felt that they needed. How SRLs want help SRLs want help – that is loud and clear. On-line resources get them part of the way – sometimes. But they want face-to-face help too. Almost all of them say that they want lawyers. But [...]

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Fire in the Hole: Why Every Lawyer Needs to Care About Access to Justice

In the last 12 weeks I have made many presentations about the results of the National SRL Study to audiences of lawyers and justice system professionals, as well as to other public (“non-lawyer”) audiences. In some instances, I have spoken alongside SRLs from our SRL Speakers Bank who have shared their stories and reflections first-hand with the audience. Parallel universes As the weeks go by, I am developing the creeping sense that I am living in two parallel universes. When I [...]

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Bergen v Sharpe and SRL Costs: The Long and Short of It

The furor on Twitter which has accompanied the publication of Justice Price’s decision this week in Bergen v Sharpe reflects the deep anxiety among some members of the Bar about the spectre of SRLs who are compensated for representing themselves. For these lawyers, Bergen is their worst nightmare come true. Is it possible to imagine any fate worse than facing a self-represented litigant in a family case? The answer, served up by Justice David Price of the OCJ, is Yes! You could be facing a [...]

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Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Unreasonable Choices for Family Litigants

Too many family court litigants find themselves facing “Sophie’s Choice” – a no-win. Sending your Kid to College versus Having a Lawyer Represent You When Derek (not his real name) ended his marriage after 10 years he and his ex-wife could not agree over custody of and access to their young son. Derek proposed mediation several times – “I really don’t want to do court and get into the ‘I-said she-said game.” – but his ex was unwilling to use mediation [...]

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2 First Steps for Lawyers Facing the Crisis in Access to Justice

The legal profession is facing many challenges, and this blog is dedicated to just one of them –the volume of people who now represent themselves (SRLs). Every week, I meet more and more people in the profession who are thinking and working hard to respond to the access to justice crisis that self-representation both creates and reflects. But I also encounter some who are clinging to nostalgia for how things used to be, when almost everyone who came to court had [...]

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It’s the Culture, Stupid! – Why Lawyers Aren’t Offering Unbundled Legal Services

Interviews with 253 SRL’s in my recent study (http://www.representing-yourself.com/PDF/reportM15.pdf) expose the reality that despite a decade of provincial Law Societies drafting new rules of professional conduct on limited scope retainers (LSR’s) or unbundled legal services – when lawyers provide services on an hourly basis for specific contracted tasks – lawyers who regularly offer their clients LSR’s are still about as rare as a shooting star on a cloudy night. The 53% of SRLs in my study who started with counsel [...]

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3 Assumptions that are Leading Us Astray

I am grateful for the opportunity to debate “the crisis in Ontario legal services” with Tom Conway, Treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada, and Mitch Kowlaski, author of  “Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century”, with a live audience at the Ottawa International Writers Festival on Saturday. In my presentation, I suggested that there are three (mis)assumptions that are leading us astray in analyzing and addressing the crisis n legal services in Ontario Assumption 1: Self-represented litigants (SRLs) are [...]

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3 Hard Realities Shaping the SRL Experience

As judges and the public become more aware of what is driving the self-represented litigant phenomenon – the unaffordability of private legal services and diminishing public assistance – some curious paradoxes are playing out in the way that the courts deal with these realities. 1.            “I have no choice – I am unrepresented, not self-represented. It’s not that I think I can do this better than a lawyer. I have no choice. I don’t have $350 an hour to pay a [...]

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Public Participation and User Input Into Justice Reform – What are We Afraid Of?

Throughout this summer, Sue and I have continued to receive daily emails from self-reps, as well as constant enquiries from system professionals – librarians, policymakers, regulators, advocates – about the Research Report of the SRL Project (Research Report). It became quickly obvious that in the wake of the original study, there is a role for a national clearinghouse for information and data both about and for SRLs’, as well as a convener for continuing collaboration and dialogue. This will be [...]

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Legitimate Public Concern or Lawyer-Bashing?

My recently released research report on self-represented litigants in Canadian family and civil courts has created a lot of buzz – some of it in the form of offence-taking by some members of the legal profession. Is criticizing the way in which the public receives services from lawyers just lawyer-bashing – or is this a matter of legitimate public concern? Historically, the Canadian justice system has been remarkably deaf to the view of its users. We have been slow to [...]

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Keeping the Train Moving Forward on the Tracks

It has been one year since I began working with Dr. Macfarlane on the Self Represented Litigants Research Project as the Project Coordinator and I was honoured when she asked me to write the blog this week with regards to issues I have seen arise during this work….here’s a glimpse….. Train 1 runs from A to B at 105 kms per hour on track 1-A leaving at 12 noon EST.  The other, Train 2, from B to A on track [...]

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The “Scourge” of Self-Representation?

Earlier this month, Canadian Lawyer magazine published an article (http://www.canadianlawyermag.com/4463/the-scourge-of-unrepresented-litigants.html) under this attention-grabbing headline. Attention-grabbing and to many – including myself, whose work was cited immediately under the headline, giving the impression that it reflected my research findings – offensive. A “scourge” is a plague, an epidemic of something extremely unpleasant. So many other words could have been used:  the “phenomenon” of self-representation, the “rise” of self-representation, or even “the challenge”. Generalizing self-represented litigants as a “scourge” promotes a blatantly self-serving myth [...]

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The Truth Is Raw

The Ottawa Citizen article about the National Self-Represented Litigants Project (Don Butler, January 01 2013) has drawn many comments to my inbox as well as on our Facebook page and to the newspaper itself.  I have to confess that when I first read the headline – “Self-represented litigants ‘treated with contempt’ by many judges, study finds” – my heart jumped into my throat. Yes, that is just what I am constantly told by self reps. Many in the justice system [...]

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Avoiding Conflation: OPCAs and Self-Represented Litigants

The press and the web have been full of references this week to Alberta judge Justice Rooke’s judgment in Meads v Meads. Described as an effort to “take back the legal system” from those who would clog the courts with what Rooke describes as “pseudo legal commercial arguments”, this story has been pitched in many quarters as a general attack on self represented litigants, described as “vexatious litigants”. However a reading of the almost 200 page judgment – not something [...]

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How User Friendly are Legal Forms? A Small Experiment.

I recently set one of our Project research assistants the unenviable task of  completing the forms to file for divorce in the three provinces in which we are interviewing self represented litigants (Alberta, BC and Ontario). “Sure” said Kyla Fair breezily. As a law student about to enter her final year of law school she was justified in feeling upbeat about this assignment. “Keep a log” I asked Kyla. “Please write down how much time you spend, each step [...]

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Let’s Put that Pesky Medical Analogy to Rest

I have been struck by how frequently – in discussions with lawyers and others, in on-line comments on articles, on our project Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Representing-yourself-in-a-legal-action/285291868160529) – we see a statement like this: “I wouldn’t take out my own appendix/ do my own brain surgery/ install my own pacemaker etc – so why would anyone think they could be their own lawyer without proper training?” Fair question, at first glance – until we peel back the layers of complexity that are [...]

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Trauma? What Trauma?

Since the end of last year, I have spoken with more than 160 SRL’s and we have dozens more waiting for an interview to be scheduled (and keep coming! we shall be interviewing through October). There has been an astonishing amount of consistency among these experiences. Whether in family or civil court, the experiences described in our 45-60 minute long interviews bear many similarities. Listening to the stories I am told, I keep feeling that I have heard this over [...]

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The Two Solitudes

I am increasingly struck – as I spend up to five hours a day interviewing self reps about their experiences – that there are two solitudes emerging. One is the world of the self reps where there seem to be many, inexplicable, obstacles to pursuing timely and effective justice, mixed in with a dash of contempt or even hostility from some quarters (the impatient judge, the rude lawyer, the exasperated clerk). The other is the world of law that [...]

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