Sometimes you cannot afford to hire a lawyer. Other times you do not need to hire one. Either way, if you represent yourself in legal proceedings, you must be as prepared as possible. While judges are often more accommodating when dealing with self-represented parties, they will not advocate for you like a lawyer would. Not knowing the law is not an excuse or a defence against a bad outcome. The following are ways you can minimize the disadvantages of not having a lawyer.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FREE LEGAL SERVICES AND RESOURCES
Free Resources Offered by the Courts
Most courts across Canada will have Registry's or offices that provide assistance to self-represented parties. For example, the Family Court in Saskatchewan provides a wide range of services and resources for parties dealing with family-related legal matters. While these resources may make it easer to navigate difficult legal and personal challenges, these service providers are the there to provide guidance. They often do not provide legal advice or represent you in your matter.
Resources for Legal Research
If you want to look up previous cases or law in a certain area, a great resource is the Canadian Legal Information Institute (Canlii):
"CanLII is a non-profit organization managed by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. CanLII's goal is to make Canadian law accessible for free on the Internet. This website provides access to court judgments, tribunal decisions, statutes and regulations from all Canadian jurisdictions."
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FREE CONSULTATIONS
Some lawyers will offer between 10 - 30 min consultations for free. These consultations can help you better understand an issue, determine whether you have a case, and decide how to proceed. If a lawyer grants you a free consultation, use it effectively and respect their time. Get right to the point and be organized with whatever documents you may want them to review.
Realize that advice given during a free consultation tends to be of a general nature. It is meant to provide you with guidance and an idea of the factors you need to consider. It DOES NOT mean that you have retained the lawyer and that they fully understand every aspect of your case. For full and dedicated service, you ill have to formally retain (hire) them.
CONSIDER HIRING A LAWYER FOR LIMITED TASKS
Whether you cannot afford a lawyer or do not need one to represent you, it still may be useful to consult one on a limited basis. Perhaps you are uncomfortable about some aspect of your matter and need a lawyer to advise or clarify it. This could be reviewing a contract or finding out what your rights are in a given situation. You may need help with drafting a document or having a lawyer review something you have already prepared. By retaining lawyers on a limited basis, you may iron out significant issues that may have undermined your case. This arrangement is referred to as a "limited scope retainer".
If you enter into a limited scope retainer with a lawyer, make sure yo be clear about the nature of service you need. Do you need a document drafted? Do you need a formal legal opinion on your chances of success. Do you need assistance with understanding a highly technical process? Retain a lawyer on a limited scope basis.
BE CONCISE AND CLEAR IN YOUR WRITTEN AND IN-COURT PRESENTATIONS
While judges try their best to accommodate self-represented parties, they are not your lawyers. They also have limited time and lots of work on their plate. If your documents and oral presentations are disorganized, unfocused or confusing, you will reduce your chances of getting the outcome you want. Do not use legal language or terms you do not fully understand. Simply explain your position and the relevant facts so they can understand and apply the law.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE SERVED ALL PARTIES IN THE COURT MATTER
If you are involved in a court dispute, make sure that all documents you submit to the court are also shared with the other parties in the dispute. Every court has rules about serving and receiving documents. If the other side does not receive the documents or receives them late, this may harm your matter or cause needless delays to the process. The Rules of Court (often available online) and the court registries can provide some guidance on such matters.
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**DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is for reference purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice or a contract for legal services with Runyowa Law. If you need formal legal advice in a covered practice area, please contact Runyowa Law at 1-306-206-2800