Unlike most lawyers, my legal training began as a client. My husband and I were parties in a lawsuit. We were represented by counsel initially. However, due to the mounting costs, we decided to represent ourselves for a part of the lawsuit. Even as a law student at the time, I found the legal process overwhelmingly complex. I believe that more should be done to help guide self-represented litigants.
Many litigants cannot afford full representation. However, I also don’t believe that litigants should be deprived of any legal assistance solely because they cannot afford full representation. I agree with what The Hon. Coulter A. Osborne, Q.C., former Associate Chief Justice of Ontario wrote in the Civil Justice Reform Project: Summary of Findings and Recommendations (2007), at page 44:
Whatever the cause and impact of unrepresented litigants on the civil justice system may be, I am of the view that the civil justice system must exist to serve members of the public – whether represented or not. The solution, in my mind, is not to create additional barriers to inhibit or restrict access to the system. Rather, a reasonable modicum of resources and assistance ought to be made available to assist those with legal problems who cannot afford counsel or choose not to retain counsel, to permit them to more easily represent themselves in a system that can be foreign and complex for those without formal legal training. At a minimum, they should be able to obtain basic information about the civil justice system and early summary advice as to whether it makes sense to pursue or defend a case.
I hope to do my part in improving access to justice in two ways. I helped organize the Self-Rep Navigators, an association of lawyers who offer limited scope legal services. These are also referred to as “unbundled” services. We hold quarterly meetings to discuss how we can develop affordable and high quality legal services. Secondly, while I am no longer taking on individual clients, I give group seminars to the public to enhance their education about litigation. Most litigants have no knowledge about the foundational principles of the legal system. They do not realize that courts are not the only way to resolve disputes. It is this gap in knowledge that I am aiming to fill.
Speaking Engagements in the Community
Heather was a facilitator of a discussion on A2J, with various members of the legal profession in Vancouver in August 2016, Law Courts Center. Webinar is accessible here.
In autumn 2016, Heather appeared on Mediation Station CHHA 1610 AM hosted by Gregg Fenten, to talk about why she became an “access to justice lawyer”.
Podcast is available here. .