Since the NSRLP’s inception in 2013, a central mandate has been to bring the public into the conversation about justice reform, and specifically including the experiences and needs of the self-represented (a majority in many courts now) in every effort to address the A2J crisis.
We have called out fake claims about “what the public thinks” made without any effort to actually consult them; “insider errors” that frame SRLs as “the enemy”; and we have lamented the lack of public consultation by law societies across Canada for A2J initiatives.
This blog has tried to express some of the isolation, frustration, and even anger felt by the public at being marginalized inside the justice system when they arrive without lawyers, while also being shut out of policy dialogue about justice system reform. There is a lot at stake here, and our readers know this well.
But our goal at the NSRLP has always been for SRLs to speak for themselves and to be active participants in policy-level discussions and justice reform.
In fact, three of our most-read blogs of 2018 were written by former or current self-represented litigants: The Client Most Lawyers Fear and Won’t Represent by Donald Best; The Costs of Self-Representation by an anonymous family litigant; and 21st Century Lawyering: Arrogance v Humility by Tania Perlin.
Another two of our top dozen blogs were written by law students. Bifurcation: A Technique that can Save SRLs Time and Money by RA Ali Tejani, explained a legal strategy brought to our attention by an SRL that is now being deployed by other SRLs. The second described the challenges of preparing a proper legal argument even with the advantage of a law school education (The Finesse of a Legal Argument by RA Megan Campbell).
SRL Jeff Rose-Martland singled out Megan’s blog for special mention, writing: “This is exactly the sort of thing SRLs need… the way Megan shares her “we-all-go-through-this” story… We need to know that it’s not just SRLs who suffer this. Megan, I applaud you for putting yourself out there to let SRLs know we are not alone.” In my straw poll of “best 2018 blogs” this past weekend among SRLs, Megan’s blog also got the top vote from Jana Saracevic, who wrote, “This confirms, for me, how complicated the process of writing a factum actually is. It is clear that SRLs would benefit from coaching and/or other legal support to be able to do this effectively.”
In 2019, we want to focus on making the NSRLP blog a more collaborative, collective effort among justice system reformers and users. There are now many legal professionals who have met and worked with SRLs at NSRLP events (including most recently the 2nd Dialogue Event), who value SRLs and recognize the importance of constructive dialogue. Some of these allies are lawyers working in the trenches, and some are leaders in the profession. While we have always pushed for SRLs in conference panels, we are lately seeing a new willingness to include their voices. There are growing numbers of articulate, well-informed A2J advocates whose own miserable experiences with the legal system might be over, but who have remained committed to speaking up and working for change. And perhaps most key: there are far more relationships between the public and professional A2J advocates now than there were in 2013.
This blog is written for both justice system reformers and members of the public
The very first blog I wrote (in June 2012, before the birth of the NSRLP and while I was still conducting the National SRL Study) was called “The Two Solitudes”. Those solitudes still exist, but we have made strides – and in particular there is a level of activism around the SRL phenomenon among A2J advocates now, both public and professional, that did not exist in 2012.
Something else is very different in 2019 than it was in 2012: there are now more than 500 legal blogs and podcasts in Canada. While some of these are law-firm focused (i.e. commercially motivated), these have also become an expression of energy for change (which is one reason we are so proud of our newly minted Change and Advocacy Clawbie for our podcast).
Yet the NSRLP blog remains unique in advocating for, and offering commitment to, genuine collaboration and dialogue among professionals and system users.
Our blog plans for 2019
So this coming year at the blog, we plan as follows:
- Committing to new efforts to feature regular guest blogs from both members of the public and justice system professionals, and, if possible, some pieces written collaboratively
- Extending responsibility and management of the blog to a small steering group who can help us seek out bloggers and topics and review submissions
- To give the NSRLP blog a name!
It only just occurred to us that we have never named the blog. It has become the “NSRLP Blog” sort of by default. But we think we can do better than that! We want a name that encapsulates our commitment to showcasing public voices and encouraging dialogue between users and professionals.
So, our first collaborative task of 2019 is: what shall we name the blog?
We welcome your suggestions – short and snappy and memorable of course! – and all ideas for upcoming blogs for 2019.