SRLs: The Good, The Bad and The Reality

Writing about Self-Represented Litigants is not as easy as it appears.

Sure, I wholeheartedly believe that every U.S. citizen has a right to be heard in court. And sometimes there simply isn’t an attorney available or willing to represent everyone. So, the alternative is appearing by oneself, as a Self-Represented Litigant or pro se.

But my training and experience lead me to conclude even though each of us has a right to appear on our own, it isn’t always in our best interest.

Ideally every person would be entitled to representation by an attorney who is familiar with the specific area of law.

Attorneys are trained to review the facts, both subjectively, objectively and as they relate in law. Areas of law differ greatly but all attorneys are skilled in research and reviewing information. By hiring attorneys clients hire an objective fact reviewer as well as a reviewer of existing law and potentially policy-makers.

About this time, you’re thinking, why did she say this topic isn’t easy? Because as an attorney, I’m torn.

As with most legal issues, there are always shades of gray. Most of us view the world in black and white, right and wrong. As attorneys, our training (3 years of law school plus our practice and life experience) reveal the shades of gray. The pieces that may be right for the wrong reasons and wrong for the right reasons.

I recognize that with each legal form that is created, some people will forgo consulting with an attorney. These individuals will not receive the wisdom, many times in the form of questions, from the attorney. This will potentially leave them vulnerable.

Scenario 1: Someone married to someone with a pension MAY have rights to that pension. But they’re so unhappy in the marriage. They sign papers without consulting an attorney. Maybe they’re currently in good health with a good job. But, what happens if they are seriously injured in a car wreck and no longer able to work?

Scenario 2: Same as before except: What happens if they move forward with their lives, without tragedy? Simply pleased to have a failed marriage behind them.

Each U.S. citizen has a right to both scenarios. And it’s the second scenario that allows me to continue to advocate for resources to assist people who want to represent themselves.

But it isn’t always easy because the first scenario is always in the recesses of my mind.

Scenario 1 in the recesses of my mind
Scenario 1 in the recesses of my mind

And I can do my best to ensure that at least the forms and resources provided to them is accurate and complete and not out there to take advantage of them.

-RFW

Fyi, for another perspective on Self-Represented Litigants, check out Rebecca Woodworth Brodie’s opinion piece entitled The Rationing of Justice: LAR, DIY attorneys and pro se.

3 thoughts on “SRLs: The Good, The Bad and The Reality

  1. I disagree that our prospective is different! I think there are plenty of people who do not need an attorney— In addition, our firm offers mediation and free classes on “how to represent yourself in court”. In fact, new associates almost fall over when they hear me tell a prospective client “you can do this yourself”. There are plenty of times I’ve said “I can charge you $400 to do this or you can do this yourself or $35 and a stamp” (I even give them a website to help them out).
    I am not worried about those people… The ones in scenario two….Nor am I a fan of making everything into “a case”… but the fact is, the people getting hurt are the ones in your first scenario…. In fact, the ones getting hurt the most are in worse shape than the first scenario. They stayed home to raise children or are disabled or are immigrants or are victims of domestic violence. They watch as the spouse with the job and money simply takes the kids and moves out, not paying any support or any bills (except to THEIR high prices attorney). Maybe the other side is a landlord that threats to call social services and file a false abuse report if the tenants complain about the conditions. Now you have one party with all of the resources being represented by an attorney and the other party with no resources and desperate just to survive pro se. These are the cases that haunt me… and just hang out at the court one day and you will see hundreds of them.
    People wanting to settle issues on their own is ideal and two pro se litigants bringing an issue before the court is fine—One person being bullied while our system just sits by… UNACCEPTABLE!

  2. Hi Rebecca,

    I met you at a Cape Mediation event a few years ago when you gave us some good training. Thanks!

    I just published two short guidelines for having successful construction projects, one for property owners and one for contractors. Just two sides of one paper each. I’d love to share them with you.

    Back in December I got to co-facilitate with David Hoffman and two others, training construction-related people in mediation skills and some of my Conscious Cooperation. Great experience.

    Maybe we can chat. Wishing you the best…

    Stuart Baker

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