What I Wish I Had Known

What I Wish I Had Known

We have asked law students who, prior to law school, represented themselves in court, “what they wish they had known” when they were self-reps that they have learned since entering law school. We have included three of the responses we have received to date below, and as we continue to go through the many responses we have received, we will continue to share them with you. We hope that this conversation will provide some practical information to self-reps and continue to generate dialogue and energy between everyone involved in the justice system.


Samantha – University of Alberta

Since starting law school, within weeks I found small things that would have helped with my case. Even just knowing how to start my argument and how to question witnesses. I think if I had waited until trial after only a few short months in law school I would have had much more confidence against the lawyer (who, I feel, took advantage of the fact I was a self-rep)


Amy – University of Windsor

Things take a long time. Just because it is important to you and you think this needs to be immediate – often it is not as urgent as you perceive it to be. You must be prepared to hurry up and wait. It is also helpful to understand the entire process – what comes first (and why), what comes next (and why) and so forth. The simple definition of custody was extremely helpful. People often think they know what “custody” means and it carries a frightening connotation. I learned that it is important to understand that “custody” does not necessarily mean that you get more or less access time.



I learned that justice is not as simple as I (as a layperson) previously believed. It was hard for me to grasp the importance attached to due process and following procedural rules at first. I saw it more simply: get the bad guy, prove he is guilty, put him away in jail, deter others. That was all that I had in my layperson analysis, which I was wholeheartedly committed to. This was probably made worse by my Ph.D in a scientific discipline, which gave me the false reassurance that I was rational and my opinion of what was fair was absolutely correct.

I have now come to see fair process as a more complex thing. A legal system for an entire society must necessarily be more sophisticated than if one is just imposing “justice” locally – for example in a family system, from a parent to her child, or even in a school or institutional setting.

I also realize now that when I saw my own case as so significant and my arguments so compelling. I did not understand how you are always pretty biased when you look at your own case. Unfortunately, you’re the last to see that!

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Comment (1)

  • marcopolocosta

    I have had the fortunate opportunity of working as an advocate acting as a third party in an atmosphere that was generally perceived to be below below the officers of the court, and then subsequently being charged with the responsibility to provide expert advice to Judges, Lawyers, Doctors, MPs and MLAs regarding what was expected of them by Cabinet Ministers. I was employed by the Federal Govt as an Investigator required to explain legislation to all the aforesaid Professionals.

    My role has enabled me to gain an incredible insight into the field of justice, and from what I’ve experienced recently as a self represented Litigant in a four year long court case, I can honestly say that our system remains broken.

    My advice to the legal community would be to bring back the Puisne Judges of the Section 92 Courts’ who once successfully dealt with over 96% of all Court Cases effectively. Just my opinion!

    April 17, 2014 at 9:08 pm

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