When lawyers are only for the rich
Self-represented litigants are on the rise, not only here in South Carolina or the United States, but also in Canada according to Macleans special report. Interestingly, law and legal practice in both Canada and the USA are based on English law. So it may not be so far-fetched to share common practices – including a rise in the number of self-represented litigants (SRLs or those previously known as pro se).
The premise of the Macleans article (part 1 of a 5-part series) is that as the economy has faltered, the cost of attorneys has remained and many people are now unable to afford to pay for legal representation. They turn to self-representation. And, what they’re seeing in Toronto is similar to South Carolina.
As the cost of hiring a lawyer soars out of reach, unrepresented litigants are flooding the courts in unprecedented numbers. While no definitive figures exist, some judges, especially in family law, say it’s over 60 per cent in their courtrooms. Chances are, those numbers are going to rise, as the legal profession is now paving the way for even more people to appear without a lawyer. Self-help centres have sprung up in several provinces, and lawyers are offering limited services to entice clients who otherwise couldn’t afford them. Critics say it’s a cynical way to deal with the problem. Being your own lawyer is “like doing your own dental work or heart surgery,” says Judith McCormack, executive director of Downtown Legal Services, a law clinic for the poor, run by the University of Toronto’s law faculty. “It’s a desperate response.”
Historically in South Carolina we’ve not tracked numbers of SRLs, but we are in the process of doing so. The South Carolina Access to Justice (SCATJ) Commission has been working with Court Administration, County Clerks of Court and Judges at all levels to develop protocols for maintaining court efficiency while continuing to meet the needs of the public. Additionally we have been working with these entities to produce court-approved forms that are free to South Carolinians and that are more easily understood than traditional court forms.
The SCATJ Commission will continue to work on improvements for self-represented litigants as well as working with legal service entities and private attorneys to make equal access to justice a reality to all South Carolinians.