Self represented litigants Legal Information and tips for those who appear without a lawyer in courts and tribunals | Help Resources | Practice and Procedure | Criminal | Civil | Family

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Andreas Solomos, a Toronto lawyer has set up this web page for self-represented litigants to provide some tips and information but no legal advice.

If you can manage to handle your legal issues without a lawyer, you do not need the services of a lawyer. However, this is not always the case.  The fact remains that during your life-time, you would need to hire at least two lawyers to handle some of your legal matters.

We live in a complex society with a myriad of laws, rules and regulations that govern human contact and regulate our lives. Many of our laws are necessary and proper for the orderly functioning of our democratic society. Sometimes, however, the state extends too far into the private lives of our citizens. And sometimes overzealous politicians introduce laws that are supposed to help us, but we discover that these laws unduly complicate our lives. From my personal experience as a Barrister appearing in Ontario Courts, I find that most self-represented litigants find the litigation process intimidating. I do not blame them.

Before I became a lawyer, I had to use the services of lawyers myself, and the experience left me questioning the legal system. However, when I became a lawyer, I realized that the legal system, although not perfect, is functioning properly. And the majority of lawyers are conscientious and hardworking individuals who love their work and do a great service to their clients. Unfortunately a lawyer’s overhead expenses today are so high, it is impossible to maintain a properly functioning law practice without charging fees that the public consider high but we as lawyers find necessary for our fiscal survival as professionals. Thus, many, unable to afford a lawyer, become self-represented litigants.

Lawyers did not make the complex laws and regulations; they too have to navigate through a myriad or regulations.  It’s tough to be a lawyer!

So let us not blame lawyers for the complexities of our legal system. Let us work together to make it better!

Act Responsibly- Some Do's and Don'ts for Self-represented litigants

The rising number of self-represented litigants in North America will continue to create challenges to the Administration of Justice and lawyers. This will become more pronounced in the area of family law.

While lawyers are told to act ethically toward self-represented litigants, the same should apply to those who decide to represent themselves. The right to be self-represented comes with the responsibility to act fairly and ethically toward the lawyers on the opposite side.

Here are some Do's and Don'ts for self-represented litigants:

1.   Do not criticize the judge trying the case or the lawyer representing your opponent.

2.   Do not attempt to bribe witnesses.

3.   Do not fabricate evidence.

4.   Turn off your cell-phone while in the courtroom.

5.   While giving evidence, don't waste the court's time grieving over irrelevant events.

6.   If you lose your case, be a good loser.

7.   If you win your case, be a good winner.

8.   Avoid gossiping about your adversaries.

9.   If you must file any legal document, learn the requirements and follow them. Avoid handwritten documents and check for spelling errors.

10.   Avoid sending too many emails to the opposing lawyer for every little issue that comes to your mind.

11.   Avoid over litigating your case by filing motion after motion.

12.   Treat court clerks, secretaries and deputies with respect and courtesy.

13.   Avoid making remarks that portray a gender bias.

14.   If you win your case, share the credit with those who helped you.

15.   If you are a self-represented litigant, do what is expected of you; provide the disclosure; meet the deadlines; file the documents.

32.   If you need a court interpreter, hire a qualified interpreter or ask the court or tribunal to provide one. Don't bring your friend or relative to do the interpreting for you.

33.   Improve the chances of winning your case by improving your attitude.

34.   When in the courtroom no matter how dire the situation is keep your composure.

35.   Never underestimate your opponent.

36.   Don't try to speak to a judge in his/her chambers on any issue, even procedural, without the other side being present.

37.   Attend court on time. Keep your watch 10 minutes fast.

38.   Control your temper, especially before the judge.

39.   Be aware of the costs consequences if you lose your case, if you act unreasonably or if you get less than your opponent's offer.

40.   Keep eye contact when you answer questions. Don't forget to look at the judge once in a while. He/she will make the decision.

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