Dear Julie: Diary of a Self-Represented LitigantNSRLP
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 billable hour model a few weeks ago https://representingyourselfcanada.com/2015/01/13/paying-for-legal-services-with-time-rather-than-value-the-billable-hour-its-consequences-for-clients/
I wanted to tell you about my adventure this week at the court as a self-represented litigant.
I am actually walking on air at this moment. I am feeling so proud of the fact that I was able to muddle through the procedures and manage to successfully have a writ of execution issued. It took me three tries, but I am not complaining!
As you may recall, I did have a lawyer who represented me. She was brilliant at trial. Without her, I probably would not have had a judgment in my favour! However, after my last bill, I decided I simply cannot afford to have my lawyer continue to represent me. In the course of enforcing the judgment, the legal costs are still mounting. For example, a few emails and phone calls (<10) between her and the opposing counsel, and between her and myself racked up $600 or so. One entry read “exchanging correspondence with Client; exchanging correspondence with Opposing Counsel” for 0.2 hours: $90.00.” Essentially, the subject matter in these communications was about getting the other side to pay up.
When people say they cannot afford lawyers, this is what they mean. Sure, you can pay $90. You can pay $600, probably. But do you want to keep on paying bills that have entries like “$90.00 for 0.2 hours” of emails and phone calls about asking the other side when they want to pay up? I found it very depressing and discouraging that even when the trial is over, there are still such costly fees to contend with, month after month.
So, reluctantly, I decided to take over the matter. As you know, I have a law degree myself. Even so, it took me at least a couple of days, looking for guides, reading books and researching on the internet to understand how to get a writ issued. And even after all the research, and drafting the writ documents accordingly, I got it wrong and had to re-file twice. It would have been nice if I could have consulted with a lawyer to review my forms before trying to file them at court. Unfortunately, my income is too high (the cut-off for the local pro bono service is $36,000 for a single person) for me to be allowed access to any legal clinic for help in filling out these forms.
When I tried to file the first time, my forms were rejected. I did not know that there is a “rule” or “custom” that there should only be one writ per judgment. (I cannot find this rule in the Rules of Civil procedure.) In my lawsuit, I was awarded judgment against the opposing side, which consisted of two defendants: the corporate entity and its proprietor. There was a judgment for the merits of the case, and a separate one for costs. I included the amounts from both judgments because I thought one should have the total amount owing from this one lawsuit on one writ. Besides, on the prescribed form, there was a line for costs (at paragraph (c) in Form 60A).
Well, I was wrong. The court clerk kindly informed me I needed two writs, because in our case, the judgment for costs came months after the judgment for the merits of the case. So I went home, re-drafted the forms, printed it all out again, went back to court.
I went back to court, waited in line anxiously. This time, the clerk at the counter told me I should have the company name and the proprietor on one writ (I had them on separate writs, because the prescribed form only allowed me to do it that way). So, I went home again, tried to add the two names on the one form on my home computer. I took a long time, because the formatting of the court document downloaded from the court website did not allow for easy manipulation to insert additional parties.
In the end, after the third try, the court clerk finally accepted the forms. I felt elated to see that red stamp go onto the forms. I wanted to frame them!! It’s too bad that I had to file the original with the Sheriff.
I hope this letter gives you some further insights into the tribulations of the litigation experience for a self-rep, even one with legal training!
Despite the fact that I really like my lawyer and I know that it would have been easier for her to handle everything, the pricing of the services is such that it has made keeping the retainer unsustainable.
Also, I wanted to show you through this recent experience that the procedures are complex and frustrating. Even with a law degree, it took me so much time and effort to do this one step. Perhaps the form should contain a wider space so that multiple entries can be inserted. It would have been helpful if the form contained a line that said: “one writ per judgment”.
But, there is a glimmer of hope: I heard from the court clerk that electronic filing will soon be available. At the very least, that would have saved me time on driving back and forth to the court, as well as waiting in line each time. I am also very grateful that the court clerks were patient and courteous. Overall, I come away feeling positive that things will improve for self-reps, even if it is happening slower than I’d like.
As always, thank you for being such a good listener.