New UK Guidelines for Lawyers on Working with SRLsNSRLP
The Law Society of England and Wales has just published guidelines for lawyers regarding their interactions with self-represented litigants (described as “litigants-in-person” or LiPs in the UK) that are refreshingly forthright about the realities of self-representation. In the foreword, it advises its members that “LiPs should not be seen stereotypically as ‘a problem’” and continues “(A) lawyer should not make assumptions about the merits of a LiP’s case simply on the basis that they have not obtained representation…. (some) have no option but to represent themselves because they cannot afford to instruct a lawyer and have not been able to obtain free legal advice.”
The guidelines go on to remind lawyers that they will be disciplined if they use bullying or unjustified threats to “take advantage” of SRLs (17), but makes clear that “(K)nowing and using law and procedure effectively against your opponent because you have the skills to do so” is not taking advantage (18). Lawyers are advised to treat SRLs politely take care to communicate clearly and avoid using legal jargon which can be intimidating (21), use words that might “inflame a dispute”, and “avoid expressing any personal opinions on the LiP’s behaviour.” (22).
The guidelines go on to provide a great deal of useful detail regarding working with SRLs in and out of court and can be downloaded at https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/Support-services/Advice/Articles/Litigants-in-person-new-guidelines-for-lawyers-June-2015/. Two other sets of guidelines have been prepared, one for SRLs explaining some of the constraints and responsibilities of a lawyer representing the other side in a matter, and the other for the clients of lawyers facing a SRL on the other side.