The Two SolitudesNSRLP
I am increasingly struck – as I spend up to five hours a day interviewing self reps about their experiences – that there are two solitudes emerging. One is the world of the self reps where there seem to be many, inexplicable, obstacles to pursuing timely and effective justice, mixed in with a dash of contempt or even hostility from some quarters (the impatient judge, the rude lawyer, the exasperated clerk). The other is the world of law that used to proceed without intrusion from self reps, inhabited by those trained in and familiar with the arcane procedures and conventions of the justice system.
Each “side” in this debate understands the world – understandably – from their own perspective. SRL’s see expensive legal services inhibiting their access to justice. Lawyers and judges (at least many of them) see people gumming up the legal system with incomplete and irrelevant arguments, slowing down the procedures even further and taking up air time in a public space.
The reality is that the two solitudes need to find a space to talk in if the problems that are widely recognized by everyone – failing public faith in the justice system, negative public image of lawyers, the cost and delays associated with legal processes and outcomes – are to be confronted. Both sides need to suspend some of the stereotypes they hold of the other – that self reps are all crazy and stupid, or that all lawyers and judges are elitist and contemptuous of self reps. A dialogue needs to be focused on system change, not individual cases and redress – although we can learn much from individual cases – and there are many people in our sample – and others in the legal profession and the judiciary – who have the reflective ability to do this.
This is the first call for these individuals to step forward, and join me in trying to frame a dialogue about change that is grounded on data, candid, realistic, and constructive?