Friday, October 28, 2005

A Fool For A Client

Increasingly, that's what Canadians have when they go to court:

In recent years more than half of those appearing in family court have represented themselves.

In civil cases, about 25 per cent of cases are lawyer-less.

Ernest Drapeau, the chief justice of New Brunswick, calls it "an alarming statistic."

Why it's happening is not easy to answer. But Drapeau thinks it may be tied to cost.

"The cost of litigation has sky-rocketed over the past few decades," he says.

Judges with Canada's Judicial Council say legal aid is underfunded and often accessible only if a defendant is faced with jail time.

Watching a self-represented litigant in court is like watching someone perform amateur heart surgery. It's painful to watch because you know the poor guy just doesn't have a clue about what he's doing and is going to injure himself and others in the process.

After three years of law school, even I don't know what to do in court half the time.

Yet it's not surprising that one-quarter of civil case litigants are self-represented. Small claims court matters are almost always money losers for lawyers: at a $10,000 cap for damages including costs plus interest, even at just $200 an hour, it isn't worth it for client or lawyer. So they hand them to articling students for the experience.

Many of these self-represented litigants in civil cases are recreational litigants who sue at the drop of a hat and tie up time and expense in frivolous and vexatious motions. They know enough civil procedure to annoy opposing counsel and courts, but not enough to advance their case.

Or they're especially aggrieved people who just won't let go of a bad case and settle before trial like the other 95% of litigants.

They aren't thinking about the costs consequences if they lose at trial after turning down reasonable settlement offers. Getting hit with tens of thousands of dollars of the other side's costs is a prospect they don't often consider.

As for the family law litigants, I wonder how many of these people are just dragging each other into court for simple vengeance against their ex-spouses, against the advice of the lawyers they've fired.

Representing oneself in court remains a right best left unexercised.

Source: CBC

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