Forget lawyers. More people are representing themselves in family and civil court.
A new report finds that many can't afford to get a lawyer, but don't qualify for Legal Aid.
"By far the most consistently cited reason for self-representation was the inability to afford to retain, or to continue to retain, legal counsel," according to the National Self-Represented Litigants (SRL) Project.
The 18-month study found that in some of the three provinces studied — Ontario, B.C. and Alberta — as many as 80 per cent of people are representing themselves in family court.
University of Windsor law professor Julie Macfarlane, who conducted the study, said courts should offer orientation workshops for those representing themselves.
"Another recommendation is that lawyers start thinking about offering their services on a task-by-task basis because many of this self-represented litigants would buy legal services if they could pay for one or two hours of help here and there," she said. "But they can't afford for a lawyer to do this on an ongoing basis."
Macfarlane interviewed 250 people representing themselves.
"More than half of the people in my study had had a lawyer earlier on, but had run out of funds," she said.
Macfarlane found some had spent as little as $10,000 but as much as $80,000 on lawyers.
"They didn't have any more money to spend," she said.
Kim Daniel hired a lawyer when she and her husband separated. She eventually went at it alone.
However, she said she felt "a lot of legal pressure" and "unrealistic deadlines" while representing herself. So, she hired another lawyer and eventually stopped using that one, too.
"I chose to represent myself because of economics. It's very expensive to pay for lawyers, especially when they aren't listening," Daniel said.
Daniel said hiring a lawyer "will be a regret I take to my grave."
Money wasn't the only issue.
Some self-representing litigants say that they have already expended all their available resources on a lawyer but without a resolution. Many also complained that their lawyer did not listen to them or include them in financial or strategic decisions.
Even people filing paperwork at the courthouses can prove to be a roadblock. People think those clerks can help them with forms and paperwork, but they can't because they aren't paid to give legal advice.
As a result, forms are sometimes not filled out correctly, and cases are often adjourned because details are missing.
The recommendations will be discussed at a forum today and tomorrow at the University of Windsor law faculty.