10 Action StepsNSRLP
Action 1: How We Think About Change
Facing the overwhelming case for systems change – recognizing and responding to the large and rising number of individuals who cannot afford legal counsel and are representing themselves in court – requires us to be open to re-thinking and re-working the way that legal and court services are conceived and offered to enhance Access to Justice.
Action 2: Listening to SRLs
SRLs are a majority in some courts now. They represent a cross section of the Canadian population, including men and women of all levels of education and income. The first-hand experiences of SRLs as they attempt to navigate the legal system are a vital part of planning for system change and SRLs can contribute much to both formal (eg working groups, policy bodies) and informal (eg professional conferences, classrooms) discussions about change.
Action 3: Making Private Legal Services Responsive to SRLs
The private Bar no longer serves the overwhelming majority of the population, whether individuals with limited means or those who are unwilling to expend very large amounts on legal services. The study data shows that at the same time many individuals both need and want access to legal services. To remedy this the legal profession must adapt its billing models, provide transparent information about costs, and consider sharing the marketplace with paralegals and others who can competently complete some legal tasks at a lower cost.
Action 4: Evolving New Models of Public Legal Services
Resource allocation for public dispute resolution must take account of both public needs and the impact of failing to meet those needs. The large and continuing rise in the number of SRLs requires a rigorous re-evaluation of the types of assistance that are presently publicly funded, and the examination of alternative and additional models including legal information services, paralegals, educational and therapeutic resources and logistical assistance, which can offer maximum value to SRLs.
Action 5: Enhancing Information Portals for SRLs
Increasing reliance on both print and web based self-help materials, including court forms, guides, and other information must reflect design principles and content development tailored to the needs of the SRL population. Both legal and educational material should be written in “real language” not legalese, and should be clear, consistent and accessible to a broad readership. Single portals are important in coordinating a plethora of resources that is often confusing to SRLs. A set of best practice standards emerges from the study data that can be used to both improve existing materials and to develop new models and resources.
Action 6: Enhancing Mediation and Dispute Resolution Services for SRLs
If SRLs are to resolve their cases before trial (as more than 90% of cases will do) they need assistance with third party mediation services as well as coaching to negotiate on their own behalf, often with a lawyer on the other side and sometimes in concert with a case manager or judge.
Action 7: Judges and SRLs
Judges are singularly impacted by the SRL phenomenon. Some are more open to the change in their courtroom role than others; some SRLs complain about being poorly treated by judicial officers. The influx of SRLs into the courts has implications for the criteria for judicial appointments, the form and content of judicial education (at (8)) and some procedural issues in the courtroom.
Action 8: Integrating New Knowledge into Legal Education and Training
There is an important role for law schools and other legal educators (including continuing legal education providers and judicial educators) in integrating new knowledge about SRLs and debating changes in traditional legal services in order to relate to and to serve SRLs.
Action 9: Measuring the Social Impact of Self-Representation
Social agencies are seeing increasing numbers of people who are representing themselves require both enhanced resources and research to identify how to support SRLs, who consistently describe stress-related illnesses and other negative social consequences of their experience. Further research is needed on the social impact of self-representation that will be critical to decision-making about the use and allocation of public resources to the justice system.
Action 10: Re-Building Public Trust
The study presents overwhelming evidence of a crisis of faith in the Canadian legal system that affects public perceptions of courts, lawyers and judges. Increasing direct contact between judges and unrepresented members of the public, and between SRLs and opposing counsel, is resulting in more complaints and growing public skepticism about the public accountability of both the legal profession and the judiciary.