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The National Self-Represented Litigants Project

The National Self-Represented Litigants Project
Monday, September 23, 2013

"I have no choice – I am unrepresented not self represented. Its not that I think I can do this better than a lawyer, I have no choice. I don't have $350 an hour to pay a lawyer.”

“I was scared out of my mind. But I had a hard choice – either learning to do this for myself, or letting my daughter go, forever.”

The two quotes above are typical examples of what I heard from respondents in my study on self-represented litigants (SRL’s) in family and civil court. They dispel the myth that SRL’s have illusions of grandeur that they can do as good a job as a lawyer. In fact, the vast majority are desperate people with no more funds to pay for counsel (53% began with a lawyer but ran out of money to pay them).

The rise in the number of people representing themselves and the enormous frustration expressed by virtually all of them requires our immediate attention. The erosion of faith in the justice system is plain in the research data (which you can read about in the study’s Final Report).

The Final Recommendations of the study pull together the research data and the significant work accomplished by the working groups at the Dialogue Event in May. They are presented as 10 Action Steps for responding to the SRL phenomenon.

Windsor Law has agreed to house and to fund the ongoing work of what are now launching as the National Self-Represented Litigants Project (NSRLP). We are grateful to Dean Camille Cameron and the faculty at the “Access to Justice Law School” for their support, as well as our wonderful Advisory Board (which now includes CFCJ’s own Trevor Farrow).

Over the summer, we have responded to innumerable enquiries from both SRL’s and justice system professionals to develop three major areas of activity for the NSRLP. These are:

  • Research;
  • Resources; and
  • Dialogue & Collaboration.

Among other projects, we will be:

  • producing a bi-monthly newsletter for everyone affected by the SRL phenomenon;
  • building resources for both SRL’s and researchers/ justice system professionals;
  • continuing to collect SRL stories through a self-completed survey on our website;
  • working on new initiatives to assist SRL’s in courthouses, convening discussions about change among professional leaders; and
  • acting as a Speaker’s Bureau for SRL’s (placing SRL’s in policy working groups, as testers for new online materials, presenting their experiences at professional conferences and in law school classes).

We are also working on a plan in partnership with IAALS to replicate the original research study in three US states.

For further information on this project please contact Julie Macfarlane (julie.macfarlane@uwindsor.ca) or Sue Rice, the Project Manager (suerice@uwindsor.ca).