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.


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.