Increasingly, people are finding themselves in court without a lawyer to represent them. They are known as "self-represented litigants" (SRLs for short). The National Self-Represented Litigants Research Study conducted by Dr. Julie Macfarlane revealed that, generally, this is not because individuals have decided that lawyers are unnecessary. In fact, "[b]y far the most consistently cited reason for self-representation was the inability to afford to retain, or to continue to retain, legal counsel." The study had much more to say about the nature of SRLs and their experience, issues of access to justice, and recommendations on ways to address the consequences of the growing number of people representing themselves. It is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in this topic. (Also, for another discussion of this report see the LawNow article What Self Represented Litigants (Actually) Want)
The process of going to court is complex and time-consuming and SRLs need a great deal of information and support. The report affirms that although online resources have their limitations, they are certainly an important piece of the puzzle.
The National Self-Represented Litigants Project (NSRLP) is building on the above mentioned research study by continuing to advocate for changes in the justice system and by creating resources that address some of the identified needs. Coping With the Courtroom: Essential Information and Tips for SRLs is a primer for preparing both emotionally and technically for court. It is packed with information and practical self-help tips. Recognizing that court is not necessarily the best way to deal with a legal conflict, Settlement Smarts for Self-represented Litigants: How to Use Settlement Processes Knowledgeably and Effectively is another "how to" primer. It aims to enable SRLs to make effective, strategic and empowered use of settlement processes--settlement conferences with a judge, mediation, and negotiations and Offers to Settle. It examines purpose and structure, how to prepare, and consequences (what to do if you get an agreement and what if you do not) for each process. One of the freely available tools for legal research is the database of case law and legislation provided by the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII). The CanLll Primer: Legal Research Principles and CanLII Navigation for Self-Represented Litigants can help SRLs understand how to use it.
The above mentioned study...