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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