What I Wish I Had KnownNSRLP
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!