|Rant from a lawyer
||[Jan. 2nd, 2013|09:56 pm]
This is a link to an excellent example of bad journalism, totally one-sided. It is about the difficulty the self-represented have navigating the court system - very critical of lawyers and judges and how they want to drive everyone into hostile court proceedings while enjoying abusing everyone - without a word about how genuinely difficult it is for the court system to deal with them.|
It's called "Self-represented litigants ‘treated with contempt’ by many judges, study finds." The study involved a whopping 280 people from three provinces, all of them self-represented. Nothing from the lawyers who had to deal with them from the other side, nor judges.
Is the court system confusing? You bet. It shouldn't be, and relatively recent attempts to simplify the process for laypeople in the family law area are ridiculous and ineffective. Lawyers hate the changes, too. I don't know who they talked to before putting these rules in place, but I can't believe many of them were lawyers who were actually practising.
On the other hand, people go to law school for a reason, and it isn't to kill three years and throw a bunch of money in the trash. We actually learn stuff there. And then, in Ontario, we have to spend a year getting real life experience in a law firm or the legal department of a company or some such. It is ridiculous for anyone not in the legal profession, no matter how intelligent and/or educated, to expect to be able to do the same things with the same ease.
Is the adversarial process a terrible one for handling separation/custody/support/etc? Damn straight. That is why a majority of lawyers encourage settlement. That's why so many of us take courses about how to help couples negotiate separation agreements. That's why the first letter out of my office is along the lines of, "Miss Jane Smith has met with me and would like to begin the process of separation. Please contact my office, or have your lawyer contact my office, so that we can begin discussing a separation agreement acceptable to both parties."
Do judges treat self-represented people with contempt? I have no doubt that some do. After all, I've been treated with contempt by judges, and other lawyers.
But my experience is of both judges and opposing counsel actually telling the self-represented what they need to do when it comes to meeting deadlines, what kind of information is needed, and so on. I've done it. Why? Not because any of us are saints, but because a self-represented party always means delay, because every time they do something wrong, it means another adjournment. And while there are lawyers happy to drag out proceedings for the sake of higher bills, most don't actually want to spend three years tangled up with one client. The longer things drag on, the crazier everyone gets, and the more stubborn they get about not giving an inch. I do not want to spend twenty minutes on the phone listening to complaints about the fact that the other party gave the kid an unsanctioned haircut, even if I can charge for it. It's stressful.
No one wants an appeal, which is a real possibility when one of the parties is self-represented.
And family law isn't a huge money maker. The average family doesn't have a big income and a high value, mortgage-free house, with a ton of investments. The lawyer can rack up the biggest bill in the world and if the client can't pay it, they can't pay it, and that's that.
Lawyers can get off a file if the client isn't paying them, but they need permission from a judge for that if a court process has been started, and sometimes they don't get it. I've been stiffed quite a few times.
The guy who is the focus of this article apparently spent $30,000 trying to stop his ex-girlfriend from moving the kid from Ottawa to Toronto. (I don't think less of him for doing that: I think it's shameful how often women can just pick up and leave with the kids.) As that didn't work, he's representing himself. I have a very hard time understanding how he can spend $30,000 on a single issue, unless he chose to hire a senior partner. Did that senior partner tell him, as I would, how difficult it is to stop a mother from moving the kids, and did he insist on proceeding anyway? Because I can tell you, I've had quite a few clients who were determined to go to court no matter what I said. As I got more experienced, I learned to, right then, tell them I wasn't the lawyer for them and advise them to hire someone else. Because you know what happens when you let the client prod you into court and they get the order you warned them they would get? They blame you.
I don't know if that's what happened in this case. I do find the lack of detail suspicious.
The court process is way too long, with important issues like temporary custody and support left dangling for months. New rules have made it worse. There are even more rules being proposed that would lengthen it even more, and it makes me want to slap people.
But something else that makes it long is the fact that too many clients want to go to court. Because their lives have been blown apart, and they're angry, and they're scared, and tv has convinced them that they can get a court date in two days. They also get advice from friends (and sometimes cops, lord, I wish I could tell the cops that I'll leave the handcuffs to them and they can please leave the legal advice to me) that is flat out wrong. Then they get angry with me when I tell them that, no, I can't just get the other party kicked off the house title by swanning into the bank and throwing orders around, and that, no, you can't just walk into court and have a restraining order "filed" or whatever in a day. Unless there’s actual abuse happening, but arguing isn’t usually abuse. Just not wanting to deal with your ex anymore doesn’t count, either.
So, coming back to self-represented people. The most sincere, hardworking self-represented parties cause delay and problems simply because they don't know enough. Then there is the other kind self-represented parties. They are a NIGHT.MARE.
In my experience, these have been men – and they’re usually men, though I’ve had to deal with a few women who do this, too - who have gotten bitter and flatout self-righteous. They hate their exes, they hate lawyers, they hate judges, they hate anything that suggests they aren't going to get 100% of what they want, and they are smarter than everyone else in the room. (Building. City.) They're the ones who respond to that letter I described above with pages of verbal abuse, calling me a bitch and a liar and a criminal, with a few threats of physical violence thrown in. They ignore deadlines and then show up the day of court and dump a novella of documents on opposing counsel and the court. This demands an adjournment, because both the lawyer and the judge need time to read this novella, most of which will be irrelevant, and the lawyer needs a chance to respond. These guys know full well that this increases the bill for the exes, and part of their plan is to cause their exes to run out of money. These are the guys who feel they shouldn't have to pay child support because mom got a new jacket, so obviously she isn't spending the child support on the kids. (Mom isn't allowed to buy anything for herself until the kids are finished university.) These are the guys who flip out when they're told that passages from the Bible and two hundred year old case law aren't legitimate precedents.
These are the guys who make the process so awful that some lawyers refuse to take clients when the other side is self-represented.
There are completely innocent people who are completely screwed by the system. There are parties with lawyers who play the same vicious games with the knowledge and sometimes even the encouragement of their lawyers. But there is another side to the story that the "journalist" ignored. And to me, it sounds like the "journalist" has his own axe to grind.
Oh god yes. I've always found litigants in person to be offered huge amounts of help and support, though the bulk of them have been nutters with one idea in their head that just keeps them going on despite them having no cause, no claim, no evidence, just some bee in their bonnet.