Law Times

May 13, 2013

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REFUGEE RETORT UNIFORM LAWS Group wants common arbitration rules Follow LAW TIMES on $4.00 • Vol. 24, No. 17 P4 FOCUS ON Lawyers respond to LAO defence of service changes P7 l aw TIMes Running Your Practice CO V E R I N G O N TA R I O ' S L E G A L S C E N E • W W W. L AW T I M E S N E W S . CO M ntitled-4 1 P8 May 13, 2013 12-03-20 10:44 A Litigant decries 'post-traumatic court disorder' New report details trials of those who represent themselves BY YAMRI TADDESE Law Times E ach time Rhonda Nordlander leaves the courthouse, she suffers an episode of what she calls "post-traumatic court disorder." Like many family law litigants in this country, Nordlander has found herself navigating the complex court system by herself. She's been trying to get access to her children who live with her ex-husband. The do-it-yourself journey has been a downward spiral littered with frustration and failure, she says. "It's turned into something that's way over my head." Stories like Nordlander's are at the heart of a final report on self-represented litigants in Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta. As part of her research, University of Windsor law professor Julie Macfarlane interviewed 259 self-represented litigants in the three provinces and 107 service providers such as courthouse counter clerks. Half of the self-represented litigants who participated in the study have a university degree. Like more than 50 per cent of Macfarlane's participants, Nordlander started out with counsel but later ran out of money. Also like many others, she turned to the Internet for help. But as Macfarlane's study has found, self-represented litigants who "anticipated that the proliferation of online resources would enable them to represent themselves successfully became disillusioned and disappointed once they began to try to work with what is presently available online." While the majority of the self-represented litigants interviewed for the report have a university degree, 'It has traumatized me to have to go through this all the time,' says Rhonda Nordlander. Photo: Laura Pedersen many, like Nordlander, found the online forms incredibly difficult to complete if they found the document at all. The information online, according to Macfarlane, was heavy on legal information and lacked practical advice on filing, serving, negotiation techniques, strategies for talking to the other side, and presentation skills. Litigants often came across referrals to other sites — "sometimes with broken links" — and found inconsistent information, the report notes. It was also difficult to distinguish which of an array of web sites were legitimate, according to the report. But the point, says Macfarlane, is that "even the absolutely best web-based material — and we don't have very much of that yet — is not a complete substitute for having somebody to talk to." Policies aiming at increasing access to justice put a big emphasis on the use of the Internet, but "what these people need is a friendly face, a helping hand," Macfarlane notes. "The sheer volume of information available on the Internet is problematic. It is often difficult for [selfrepresented litigants] to know which site to use and how to move from one to another without finding apparent contradictions or gaps," the report states. "Another problem is that it is clear from interviews that [self-represented litigants'] ability to navigate and utilize information and forms provided online is affected by their emotional condition as they proceed through a contentious matter." One of the results Macfarlane finds shocking was the sheer toll self-representation takes on people. See Prof, page 2 Paralegal scope motion withdrawn before AGM Law Times A 'We had assurances from the law society treasurer and staff that everything we're asking for is being done,' says John Tzanis. group of paralegals withdrew a controversial motion seeking action to expand their scope of practice hours before the Law Society of Upper Canada's annual general meeting in Toronto last week. After intensive discussions over the previous week with the law society and the Canadian Bar Association, the 10 paralegals who proposed the motion decided it was best not to go ahead with it, says John Tzanis, president of the Paralegal Society of Ontario. "We had assurances from the law society treasurer and staff that everything we're asking for is being done," says Tzanis, adding the paralegal group has also heard from Ontario Bar Association president Morris Chochla. The motion would have asked the law society to look into training programs for paralegals so they can practise fully in areas like family and immigration law. In recent articles, Law Times reported on the fierce debate the motion had stirred between paralegals, who say it's time to allow them to practise with fewer limitations, and lawyers who argue only law school can prepare a person for the kind of work they do. "Lawyers and paralegals should be colleagues, we should be working together on all of these issues . . . not in opposition or going to a battle," says Tzanis. "It doesn't make any sense. . . . If we're both fighting for access to justice for the public, why are we battling each other like this?" The withdrawal of the motion was also a bid to thwart the animosity expected at the law society meeting. Earlier that day, the law society moved it to a larger venue in anticipation of unprecedented attendance due to the controversy. "We've done so much to help build bridges and the last thing we wanted was to create a war of words," says Tzanis. "I thought there will be some paralegals who don't represent the majority of us or there will be some PM #40762529 BY YAMRI TADDESE See Issue, page 2 Get more online • Fresh Canadian legal news and analysis every day Canadian Lawyer | Law Times | 4Students | InHouse | Legal Feeds Visit Us Online 1-8-5X.indd 1 2/28/11 2:37:34 PM

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