Advice for self-represented litigants, Part 1: Walking away is sometimes the best decision
Self-represented Litigant: “But I have so much invested in this case.”
Me: “You haven’t seen anything yet. You still have a car and a wife. If you continue, both will be gone by Summer.”
Not a week goes by that I don’t receive at least two or three long emails from self-represented people who are facing personal disasters and injustices before the courts. Most of the writers tell of years-long legal battles where they started out represented by a lawyer, only to be forced by dwindling finances to take over the case themselves.
I remind them that the legal system is set up so that lawyers normally profit by dragging out litigation, not by winning or settling for their clients in a timely or effective manner.
The writers speak of their surprise in discovering that truth and justice don’t seem to matter to the courts; only the rules of civil procedure matter along with the unwritten rules of the court staff that often change on a daily basis. (Last week a white cover on filed legal documents was fine, this week it must be green, or blue. Double-sided was fine last month, but this week documents must be printed single sided… and on and on.)
While a very few of the writers are clearly unhinged (or have become so after years of obsessively seeking justice that will never happen), the vast majority who write to me are educated, intelligent people who are highly competent in their own professions. Yet, they find themselves struggling and caught up in legal systems designed to serve the needs of the legal profession first, and operated by lawyers and former lawyers (now known as ‘judges’).
Lawyers and judges frequently become angry with self-represented persons, whether their anger is due to frustration or is deliberately summoned to control, intimidate or damage. The system seems designed to allow lawyers to overwhelm and destroy citizens who cannot afford the price of legal counsel; even when the facts dictate that any jury would side with the self-represented litigant.
Most of the emails describe unethical behaviour by opposing counsel and the willingness of the court to look the other way when lawyers shortcut the rules of procedure or are less than truthful with self-represented litigants or even with the judge.
I am not a lawyer and although I try to send a brief reply to every email, I don’t have the time to answer in detail.
But once in a while, for whatever reason, I reply at length with some general thoughts. I feel terribly sorry for most of the people who write to me because I know what they are going through. I know what it is to be unjustly convicted and jailed by corrupt lawyers who fabricate false evidence and lie to the courts. I know how difficult it can be to face judges who don’t want to hear any evidence of serious misconduct by opposing counsel. I know what it is like to have a lawyer charge tens of thousands of dollars, accomplish nothing and then indifferently walk away.
‘Mr. J’: Overwhelmed and sinking fast
This reply was emailed to ‘Mr. J’ (not his real name of course). If you are involved in a legal case that seems to be overwhelming you, you might want to consider my reply to ‘Mr. J.’:
Dear ‘Mr. J’,
Thanks for your comprehensive email. I’m not sure that any advice I provide would be the correct advice for you.
Your situation is very different than mine, but from your email I think that we’ve both learned the same lessons: unethical lawyers can crush you like a bug and for the most part, the courts and law societies tend to believe lawyers or at least give them the benefit of the doubt, even when the evidence of serious misconduct by lawyers is overwhelming.
Yes, Big Law firms are effectively untouchable as other lawyers fear to complain about their misconduct, while the Law Society of Upper Canada and other overseeing bodies are stacked with members of ‘the club’. Yes, law societies operate without independent civilian oversight and many lawyers act with only the most ephemeral and convenient adherance to the rule of law.
Your evidence is probably not as professionally gathered as mine is (after all, that’s what I did for decades as a police detective and then private investigator), but even with my voice recordings that show corrupt lawyers lied to the court and fabricated the evidence used to convict me of Contempt of Court, I still went to jail.
It could be that your evidence is not as solid or comprehensive as you believe it is, or it could be that it doesn’t matter how good your evidence is; the corrupt lawyers will win anyway because they know the Law Society of Upper Canada and the rest of the legal profession usually covers up wrongdoing by members of ‘the club’. (Read the Toronto Star’s ‘Broken Trust‘ series and you’ll know that you are not alone. According to the series, the Law Society of Upper Canada and Ontario’s legal profession have engaged in hundreds of cover-ups of criminal activities by lawyers.)
Now I’ve decided to tell my story to my fellow Canadians, hopefully in a credible and easily understood manner. I’m an amateur at that, while the lawyers are professionals. When it’s truth vs. showmanship, sometimes the truth doesn’t have a chance.
I don’t know all the details of your case or how much money is still at stake in the estate legal dispute that you speak of, but from your email it seems that the injustice of the entire situation has overwhelmed your life. My situation didn’t overwhelm me in the same way that your situation did, but I can tell you there were days when I considered dropping the whole thing just to try and normalize my life as best as I could.
You might want to consider the following questions as you make your decisions:
1/ What outcomes would you consider to be ‘just’ in your case?
2/ How likely are you to succeed at this point in achieving those outcomes?
3/ Will the achievable outcomes make up for what has happened to you? Will they allow you to have a decent and happy life going forward?
4/ If there is no hope of a ‘just’ outcome, should you consider admitting defeat, divorcing yourself from the situation and then try to achieve a happy and decent life without the money or the ‘justice’ that you seek?
Sometimes you can do everything right, and be in the right; yet still not find justice. At that point, a fresh start with nothing is sometimes the right thing to do. A fresh start is really nothing more than a decision, followed by some reinforcing actions; plus some personal discipline to stay on the chosen path.
Perhaps you could have done some things differently in the handling of your case. Or, perhaps nothing would have made a difference.
You can only go on from this day forward and decide what you will do tomorrow. How do you want to live your life tomorrow?
I cannot personally assist you because it is all I can do to handle my own case and try to find a new method of supporting myself. After all, my career as a credible investigator and witness died the moment I was convicted of contempt of court with provably fabricated false evidence in a rushed and secret trial while I was out of the country.
That was an injustice, and one that will probably never be corrected.
But it opened new doors for me as I ramp up my efforts to cause the Ontario legal profession to return to the lost ideal of law as the ‘noble profession’. I may have to drag the legal profession and the Law Society of Upper Canada kicking and screaming to their long-forgotten foundations of honour and justice, but I shall continue in my attempt.
Good luck with your case!
Photo Credit: Fran Priestley, freeimages.com