Our Report, “Tracking the Trends of the Self-Represented Litigant Phenomenon”, looked at data collected and shared by Atlantic Canadian SRLs over the past several years. Along with giving us information about their experiences navigating the justice system alone, many wanted to share words of wisdom for other SRLs so they wouldn’t feel so alone. This included advice and insights to other SRLs who may find themselves in similar situations.
We are sharing some of their tips and advice to help other SRLs who are going through the process:
Do your own research and understand the rules of the court
“The biggest thing I have learned, probably the most important thing to date, is that SRLs need the Rules of Court right from the start.”
“Do your research. Meet with every resource. Be open minded. Know the law. Know the facts. Know when to cut your losses. At the same time, don’t automatically believe everything a lawyer tells you. Lawyers make mistakes too. Know the Civil Procedure Rules in and out. Be aware that the law is abstract, and the same standard will not apply to you as it would a lawyer so there is wiggle room. But a self-represented litigant cannot afford to not know the Civil Procedure Rules. There is no amount of research that should satisfy a self-represented litigant that they understand the rules or the nature of proceedings”
Ensure that submissions to the court are organized, concise and well-written
“I found judges very open to receiving lots of information as long as the submissions were well-written, as concise as possible, well-organized, evidence-based and devoid of ad hominem attacks or unsubstantiated, subjective assertions.”
Be polite, respectful and courteous, and do your best to keep emotions out of court
“Tips: Go out of your way to be polite, respectful, courteous, self-effacing, and even charming with court staff. These folks are the court’s front lines. They deal with all sorts of characters, many of them not particularly nice. A little investment in pleasantry can pay big dividends when you need them to cut you some slack. Treat everyone in the court process—lawyers for the other side, judges, witnesses, etc.—with the same courtesy and respect you would like to be treated with. Just because you disagree, you don’t have to be disagreeable. Everyone involved can make your project easier or harder. Don’t give them an excuse to treat you poorly. You are likely to be emotionally wrapped up in your case. The other participants likely are not. Try to keep the emotion out of your presentations. After you have written something for the court, go through it and delete adjectives and adverbs, and especially qualifying words like “very,” “extremely,” etc. Emotions will not win the day. Good facts and solid legal arguments may.”
Try your best to find balance
“You have to prioritize your case, but you have to live your life too. Dedicate time to your case and time to your life. Just as a lawyer would. It will overwhelm you; it will stress you. You must be passionate, but almost possess a level of numbness. Believe in yourself. Don’t at any time think you’ve won until you’ve received a verdict. Read case law to friends and ask you they think should win and why, then read and discuss the verdict. It’ll open your perspective. You have to be ready for anything.”
If you are interested in reading the entire report, Tracking the Trends of the Self-Represented Litigant Phenomenon, you can access it here:
Are you, or have you been a self-represented litigant? We would love to hear your story and hear from you, and encourage you to fill out our Needs Assessment. This will help us to improve existing services and explore the potential of new supports for self-represented litigants to improve their experience in the justice system.