Over at Slaw.ca, Professor Julie MacFarlane proposes a solution to the vexing problem of “self-represented litigants (SRL’s”) in a post entitled: “Lawyers Coaching SRLs in “Self-Advocacy”? Why This Paradoxical Proposition Deserves Your Serious Consideration“. Essentially, Professor MacFarlane, drawing upon her recent 2011-12 study and responses to the National Self-Represented Litigants Project , proposes a “Lawyer-Coach” model to stem the rising tide of “self-advocacy” within the Canadian legal system. MacFarlane writes,
How SRLs want help
SRLs want help – that is loud and clear. On-line resources get them part of the way – sometimes. But they want face-to-face help too.
Almost all of them say that they want lawyers. But they cannot afford to use a lawyer for every step of their case.
They want help to be effective self-advocates.
Crazy – or Adapting to Reality?
OK, so there is something paradoxical about lawyers assisting people to do the work that they would ordinarily charge them to do for them. The irony is that the profession now needs to consider this possibility in order to retain public legitimacy, as well as to enable the justice system to be more functional (more of this below).
Some lawyers will take the view that encouraging individuals to self-advocate is irresponsible and that our energy should be directed at bringing these SRLs “back into the fold” of full-on legal representation. While this sentiment may be coming from a good place, here is the reality – unless those same lawyers are willing to cut the cost of their services at least in half, or support a tax system that hugely expands legal aid, that it not going to happen.
And even then – if we can imagine either eventuality – there will be an appetite for saving costs. Whether this is self-advocacy, outsourcing, or access to para-legals, it’s all going in the same direction. The age of passive deference to professional advice is over. And a lawyer-coach model opens up the possibility of a lawyer/client partnership of the sort that so many personal and commercial clients now expect.
I am not entirely clear on what the “age of passive deference to professional advice” means. If I retain an accountant to give me professional tax advice, I do not offer up my opinions on how best to avoid or, heaven forfend, evade paying my taxes. The same holds true if I consult with my doctor about performing surgery under general anesthetic. It’s a given that I will defer to the person with the medical degrees hanging on their office wall. (more…)