NSRLP’s National SRL Study (2013) Summary

Total SRL interviews283

Alberta: 105 – British Columbia: 100 – Ontario: 78

This total includes a small number of secondary interviews (3-6 in each province).

Total agency/ counter staff interviews: 107

Alberta: 38 – British Columbia: 27 – Ontario: 42

Demographic breakdown for the SRL sample

50/50 ratio male/ female

60% family, 40% civil

3/1 plaintiff/defendant

40% annual income under $30,000, 40% income over $50,000, with 15% over $75,000

50% have university degrees

65% started with counsel but are now SRL (almost always for financial reasons: see below)

Consistent themes throughout SRL interviews

1. Motivations to self represent (top three only)

#1 reason: no funds

“I can’t feed my children and the judge is telling me to hire a lawyer”

#2 reason: financial extension

Many have already expended $10-20,000 on legal fees and their matter is not finally resolved. A small number have spent over $75,000 on legal costs.

“I have some savings to put to good use or I could use it for more litigation.”

#3 reason: how hard can this be? Belief that SRL is after all most knowledgeable about their own case

“I don’t regret not having a lawyer. This would introduce a new person who doesn’t know about our situation. Why have two people (lawyers on each side) who don’t know or understand them?

‘I decided, “I can do this. It will be a learning experience – but I am an intelligent person, I can figure this out.”

“It’s my story and no one knows it better than me – I lived it and breathed it.”

2. Challenges/ obstacles (top three only)

Complexity of the process

“This is a process that makes smart people feel stupid.”

Need for both information and support

“You can set up all the websites you want, but often sitting F2F with someone is what people really need.”

“They come here, to the courthouse, for help – but then they can’t get it. They are passed from person to person, looking for help… people leave feeling that the court doesn’t help them.” (counter staff)

Feeling unwelcome

“The experience of asking for an adjournment was the worst experience of my whole life. It was embarrassing and humiliating. The judge blasted me as an incompetent father – I was shaking. I had never been treated like that in my whole life. He sent me out of the court and told me not to come back until I had a lawyer.”

“It’s a club; if you don’t have a lawyer, the judge is going to discriminate against you. That’s why you have a lawyer so you can be part of this club … and appear to the judges to be a more conforming person.”

“It’s like going into a gun fight carrying only a knife.

3. Impact (top three only)

Personal health issues

“It’s a traumatic experience every time I walk into the court. The last time I went to court I couldn’t get out of bed after for three days.”

“The stress was making me stutter in court….you are so stressed, out of your mind, it all becomes a confusing mess. if I have to go to trial I just don’t know if I’m able to do it.” (in tears)

Social isolation

“I lost touch with my sons during this time, I was so taken up with the trial. My relationship with my new girlfriend suffered. I was totally immersed in it, but I had to be.”

“I dwell on it all day, every day. There is not a day that goes by when I don’t research this, think about it, I am basically fixated on this.”

Failing faith in the justice system

No matter how right your cause is, you do not get the justice you deserve because it is about your resources.”

Please note that these themes are consistent among all three provinces, and users of both family and civil courts at each level.

Source: www.representingyourselfcanada.com