I have been practising for about sixteen (16) years now and have noticed a definite pattern towards self-representation in family law matters. Self-representation means that an individual handles their own legal matter (and in this case family law matter) rather than hire a lawyer to represent them. It’s true, hiring a lawyer can be expensive but it does not have to be.
Over the years, the number of self-representing individuals has steadily risen. I have watched how this pattern has impacted Court Hearings and legal services provided by government programs as well as legal services provided by lawyers.
So, I decided to write an article to outline what I believe every self-representing individual needs to know. In addition to my own family law practice, I often pitch hit as Duty Counsel for both Provincial Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench in Edmonton, Alberta. This is where I noted several key mistakes self-represented individuals make.
Welcome to the TOP 5 Habits of Effective Self Representation:
1) COURT FORMS/EVIDENCE
Once you get the Court forms and fill it out, SEE A LAWYER to ensure you correctly completed the Court forms as well as have the necessary information in your Court forms to present your case. The information you put in your Court forms is the “evidence” a Judge relies on to make a decision. The Judge will not “hand hold” you during your Court presentation nor will the Judge explain how you can correct mistakes in your evidence or how you obtain missing evidence. A one (1) hour consultation with a lawyer will give you peace of mind because you know your evidence is on point. The costs vary from lawyer to lawyer depending on experience and how the lawyer markets to get new clients. **Remember a lawyer’s experience is more important than a free consultation. **Be focused on whether the lawyer has actually done Court applications like yours and been successful.
Just to see how many people actually read this article, I offer $30.00 off the first consultation with me, as long as you tell me the title of this article. Call my office to book your consultation (780) 761-1070.
If you need more guidance or information, then more consultations may be booked. It beats paying a lawyer’s traditional retainer fee which, on average, ranges between $2,500 to $10,000 or more depending on the circumstances of each case. **Stay in control of how much you spend on legal advice.** You may also want to read about “limited scope retainers” on my website. Just use the search button on my website and type in “limited scope retainer”.
2) DUTY COUNSEL
In Edmonton and some surrounding areas like Wetaskiwin, Duty Counsel is available to assist self-representing individuals, in family law matters, present their case in Court (for that day only). If you are nervous or anxious about speaking in Court, ask Duty Counsel for help.
You would attend Duty Counsel’s office just before the start of Court and discuss your case. Duty Counsel will help both sides of a dispute if both parties are self-representing. Duty Counsel is not prevented from helping the other side of a dispute, too. Be prepared to wait your turn as Duty Counsel is very busy. It can take forty-five (45) minutes or more to see Duty Counsel depending on how many self –represented individuals are in Court that day. Often Duty Counsel assisted cases wait until the end of the Court list so Duty Counsel has a chance to speak to all the self-represented individuals. Be sure your parking meter has enough time on it. The Court also often hears disputes that have two lawyers, first, as the Court assumes it will be presented faster than self-represented individual cases because the lawyers are familiar with the Court process and rules of evidence.
3) Come to Court prepared
Bring extra copies (at least 3 extra copies) of each Court document so you can show Duty Counsel, the Judge or the other party, if they did not bring their own copy. Be sure you have an Affidavit of Service or information that the other party knows about your Court application and Court date. In Court, there are a lot of different matters and there is NO guarantee that the Judge has read the Court documents you filed before you present your case or that the Judge even has your file in front of them when you present your case. Remember you are not allowed to present information (evidence) unless that information was in your Court documents. The Court documents also need to be filed at the Courthouse and served on the other party prior to your Court date. Be sure to abide by the due dates for serving your Court application to the other party.
4) Stay calm and polite
The worst impression you can make on a Judge is creating the need for security to intervene. In Family Law emotions run high but that cannot disrupt the Court proceedings or endanger anyone in the Courtroom or in the Courthouse. There can be significant consequences for inappropriate behavior such as criminal charges, removal from the Courthouse and the Court deciding your case without you there or even a complete ban from the Courthouse for a period of time.
5) Be aware of the Court Hearing process. It is very helpful to understand where you sit in the Courtroom, how you check in with the Court Clerk so your matter is not missed or struck off the Court list, how you pass Court documents or other evidence to the Judge when you present your case, when it is your turn to speak, when you sit down and when you stand up.
See point 1) above about consulting with a lawyer. You will feel more at ease if you know how the Court Hearing process goes.
The Court expects you to know the rules even though you are not a lawyer.
I hope you found this article helpful. Abiding by this TOP 5 List will ensure you are better prepared for Court. If you wish to book a consultation, just call (780) 761-1070 or email our office at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are happy to help you.
**Invest your time and money wisely….Court decisions have a significant impact on people’s lives.**
Author: Ms. Ning Ramos, Barrister and Solicitor
Ramos Family Law