The reduction in Legal Aid is predicted to see an increase in the number of litigants in person. Is this a problem?
There is no research to suggest that cases take longer with a litigant in person. However the Judge and the solicitor on the other side are expected to assist as far as possible. If your opponent is a litigant in person then you will be expected to approach with caution, it can increase your own client’s costs as the litigant in person is given more time, you are expected to assist them, for example producing the Court bundle (5 copies of the evidence) even if your client is the Respondent. You are not expected to give them legal advice but neither can you take advantage of their lack of legal and court procedure knowledge.
I have met with a number of clients who have attempted to represent themselves. In every case they have not known what their legal best interests were and have acted accordingly.
Heather Mills did herself no favours by representing herself. Being a litigant in person for financial reasons is one thing… choosing to be a litigant in person when you can afford representation is a potential act of self sabotage.
There is not just the financial aspect. The emotional shield that a solicitor provides is very important. I know from personal experience. I endured an acrimonious divorce with my ex-husband telling me he chose the most aggressive local firm. His financial non-disclosure was deliberate and continued. In the end I had to employ solicitors at great financial cost to represent me. They carried out my instructions. I do not think they got a better result than I would have alone but they did remove the huge anxiety of self representation.
One good thing, going through an acrimonious divorce has helped me understand what my clients are going through far better, it’s a bit like having a midwife who has had children of her own!