Canadian Bar Association: “Folks at the NSRLP debunk a myth surrounding self-represented litigants”

Canadian Bar Association: “Folks at the NSRLP debunk a myth surrounding self-represented litigants”

We love to report on tangible progress in the daunting challenges surrounding A2J and the SRL phenomenon. Here is one such story.

Within a few months of beginning data collection via extended interviews with self-represented litigants in late 2011, a jarring misunderstanding between the profession and the public over the complex reasons for going to court without a lawyer became apparent (an early blog: Assumptions That Are Leading Us Astray.)

Research studies in both Canada and the US showed a pervasive belief among many lawyers and judges that litigants who went without lawyers “preferred” to go it alone and some had elevated confidence about “being a lawyer”. This fueled a “resentment narrative” among some members of the profession who appeared to believe that SRLs were rejecting legal assistance for ideological reasons.

But the hundreds of people we were interviewing and hearing from said otherwise. They told us – sometimes with embarrassment and even with shame – that they either could not afford to get started with a lawyer at $350 an hour, or they had run out of money to continue paying for their lawyer (53%). Certainly some had reached a point of defiance – “why should the fact that I cannot afford a lawyer prevent me from seeking justice?” – and some were very dissatisfied with the results of their expenditure on legal services. But few eschewed competent legal assistance for any reason other than cost. This pattern was documented in the Final Report (at p31 & pp38-48) and continues to show up in the analysis of our self-complete Intake Forms (a new Intake Report is forthcoming in the month of May).

We have continued to try to draw attention to the reliable data on this question (while questioning less reliable and anecdotal “sources” – blog – Chasing Down The Data. How Doubtful Assertions about SRLs Sometimes Become Facts). Last week’s “vlog” Why People Are Coming To Court Without Legal Representation,  a short video created for the American Bar Association, sets out the evidence for the reality that the primary obstacle to access to justice and legal representation in Canada is money. Featuring two SRLs speaking about their own experiences of self-representation, it deconstructs the “affordability puzzle”, explaining the complex elements of contemporary consumer decisions over value-for-money and self-help.

There are now real and encouraging signs that the “resentment narrative” is being replaced with a more realistic and complex view of the SRL phenomenon. We are delighted to find our work being picked up by the CBA National Magazine Blog under the heading “The folks at the NSRLP debunk a myth surrounding self-represented litigants.”

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