If you’re facing a family legal problem right now, you’re probably considering your finances and your options. You may be thinking about and considering whether or not you are able to hire a lawyer to represent you and resolve your legal problems.
If you’ve visited a lawyer for a consult, you may very well have been taken aback at how much it will cost to hire a lawyer.
Some of you may be able to pay a lawyer to begin to help you with your legal issue, but there is a limit to your funds. Half of you—likely more than half of you—will end up deciding that you cannot afford a lawyer to represent you and you will have to represent yourselves.
Self-represented litigants are increasing at a rapid rate in B.C. The Law Society of B.C. recognizes this “phenomenon” as an issue of access to justice. It is working to find a way to promote easier access to justice and figure out why it is that self-represented litigants have trouble finding lawyers to provide limited services to them such as legal coaching to help them navigate the legal system.
The court system itself is trying to respond to the deluge of self-represented litigants by making various court forms more accessible and easy to navigate.
If you’re a self-represented litigant and you have a bit of money, you could pay to have a lawyer guide you through the process or answer some of your questions. You may have wondered why it is so difficult to find a lawyer to help you out. Your Internet research has come up with nothing.
If you find yourself in a situation where you can afford a little bit of help but not enough to be fully self-represented, then I encourage you to talk to a lawyer about providing you with legal coaching. Explain to them that you intend to represent yourself in court but you feel you could benefit from some coaching sessions behind the scenes. The more lawyers start to hear potential clients asking for these services, the faster they will change to meet the need.
Representing yourself is a daunting task. I cannot stress enough that if you intend to do so, then you need to give yourself as much time as possible to prepare for court matters. It is easy to procrastinate on your legal projects, but be aware they will, inevitably, take you three times as long to complete as you expect them to.
Start early, break down each project into manageable tasks, and create a schedule. Enlist the assistance of your other supports for childcare and assistance in other matters in your life to help create the space you need to do this work. If you’re working a full-time job and have child-care responsibilities, managing your own legal issue will quickly seem to be too much if you do not organize other supports for yourself. Organization and early preparation are the only ways to combat stress and the great emotional anxiety that often accompanies legal issues.
Familiarize yourself with your local courthouse library. For family matters (where we find most self-represented litigants), familiarize yourself as well with your family-justice centre. Be sure to use reliable online resources such as the LSS website, Family Law in B.C. website, JP Boyd Family Blog, and JP Boyd Family Law Wikibook.
If you are a lawyer and you are reading this column, consider this a call to action. Many of you will offer various types of legal coaching to your clients, but you won’t offer it upfront to new clients or advertise it on your website. My challenge to you is to figure out why you or your firm is not advertising these services and why you are hesitant to offer them to your clients. Find a way to meet these concerns.
Take charge of the situation and figure out an innovative way to offer legal-coaching packages. I was recently inspired to do so by a Canadian Bar Association session on self-represented litigants. I’ve put together my own packages for self-reps here as a pilot project of my own.
Change is coming, if its not already here, and as a profession we need to change to meet the challenge or we’ll find ourselves redundant.
A word of caution: you should not act or rely on the information provided in this column. It is not legal advice. To ensure your interests are protected, retain or formally seek advice from a lawyer.