Self-Reppers and the level playing field

Someone needs to speak up for self-reppers.  It appears to me they get a bum deal.  In a post on my companion blog, Larkin’s Law, I examined the legal establishment’s view of self-reppers as ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’.  I can’t believe that the vast majority of the people who find themselves without legal representation do so by design.  They are forced into this position by being excluded from forms of public funding and also finding that their private funds cannot stretch to obtaining full time legal representation.

Strategies

What can the self-repper do to partially level the judicial playing field? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Research and reassurance.  There is plenty of information available on the internet and I will be compiling some useful websites in the Resources page.  But for now I would like to mention Wikivorce.  I think the strength of the site lies in the sense of community that its registered users feel.  There are free information sheets on the site and a forum for exchange of views and advice.  Some of the ‘advice’ needs to be treated with a pinch of salt as it is too general in nature but this is a good start.
  2. Unbundle the services you need.  By this, I mean set out what you need to achieve and see if some of it can be ‘process-driven’ like the divorce process itself for a start and if you don’t mind doing it online then try some of the DIY sites.  Naturally, using some of these sites would make the lawyer in me slightly nervous.    Ideally, every spouse having to file a divorce petition (I think the new rules dictate that I should call it a divorce application) should have the opportunity to talk through the contents of the  petition with a family lawyer.  There are some traps here but the self-repper does not live in an ideal world so an online DIY divorce it may have to be. But remember, if money is really tight, you can type out the petition yourself accessed from the Court Service website and make use of the free leaflets on the divorce process you can pick up at your local county court.
  3. On the presumption that there is no eligibility for public funding, consider raising a small amount of funds (beg, steal or borrow) to obtain advice on the likely financial outcomes of the divorce from a good family lawyer.  Here’s how to find a good family lawyer.  Expect and demand, unless there are virtually no assets and little income in the marriage, to spend at least two hours with a lawyer.  A good family lawyer will want to know everything about you, your partner, your children and the marriage, perhaps even your star sign before they would even consider themselves to be in a position to outline some advice for you.  But then what would you expect?  Can a twenty year marriage be reduced to a half-hour free interview?  I don’t think so.
  4. If you are going to run the case yourself including representation at court then try, on a piecemeal basis, to get advice from a lawyer, on the documents that have been produced so far and what you should expect to happen at the court.  If you are clear about the relevant issues and, perhaps, what you need to ask the Judge for, then this would be money well spent.
  5. Hope that your spouse is going to pay for legal advice even if you are not.  Let me explain.  If a solicitor has to deal with a self-repper instead of another solicitor then there is a tendency to explain everything as clearly as possible.  Indirectly, you will be getting the benefit of overall ‘guidance’ on court process and procedure even though you are not paying for it.  There may also be the small satisfaction of knowing that this will increase your spouse’s legal costs because of the extra time spent by his solicitor having to explain every nuance of the law to you in long letters.  The Judge is also likely to ask your spouse’s solicitor to undertake tasks that should properly be carried out by you just because the Judge wants to have someone to shout at for the next hearing if nothing has been actioned.
  6. If your spouse has instructed a solicitor and you are unrepresented then there is nothing to stop you picking up the phone to the solicitor in question.  It does not hurt to be pleasant (even if their client’s actions towards you have not been sweetness and light).  You can ask courteous questions: “About your last letter Mr Jones, you mentioned the hearing coming up next week, what will the Judge be expecting us to do at the hearing?  Is there anything I have forgotten to give you or the court for that hearing?  What are ‘directions’?  What directions will you be asking the court for, and why?”  Contrary to rumour, most solicitors are human and will respond constructively although you should be clear that they cannot be seen to ‘advise’ you specifically on what you should and should not do as that would conflict with their duty to their own client.
  7. If you have to attend court unrepresented then consider using a McKenzie Friend.  This is not a solicitor or barrister but, usually, a friend or associate who can give you moral support, take notes for you and give quiet ‘advice’ whilst not being allowed to perform the role of advocate on your behalf.  There is a useful guidance note on how McKenzie Friends can conduct themselves and this should be read before you consider asking someone to help you in this way, here: Practice_Guidance_McKenzie_Friends.

 

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  1. Capiyo’s avatar

    Congratulations, very well explained, in plain English, I should imagine it will be very useful for the other party (the one with no representation) to feed off the fee payer, very clever!!

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