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Stymied by the high cost of hiring a lawyer, many Canadians are representing themselves in court only to find the experience frustrating, overwhelming and more complex than they expected, according to a study released Tuesday.
In fact, the study finds the ordeal of trying to navigate the legal system can take a profound emotional, financial and even physical toll on self-represented litigants…
Slightly more than half started off with a lawyer before opting to represent themselves, often after paying out large sums…
While some said they were simply fed up with their legal representation, most cited the steep cost of retaining a lawyer — $350 to $400 an hour is not unusual — as the prime motivation for going solo…”They’re doing it because they cannot afford to pay a lawyer. This isn’t about choice: this is about necessity.”
Some lost jobs or found themselves isolated from friends and family. Others lost sleep or fell ill…Macfarlane said she was surprised at the enormous stress self-represented litigants experience…
While legal resources are increasingly available online, the study finds they require some legal knowledge to be of use, and may not be of much concrete help.
Simply finding and filling out the right forms — even those offered online — proved a daunting challenge to many, leading to mistakes and timewasting, as well as to added workload for court staff.
“A number of court staff commented that they (and some lawyers) also had difficulty completing complex and lengthy court forms,” the study states.
Respondents found court personnel often tried to be helpful but didn’t have enough time, or staff worried about being seen to offer legal advice…Some respondents complained judges were rude to them…
The Alberta Law Foundation, Law Foundation of British Columbia, B.C. Legal Services Society, and the Law Foundation of Ontario provided funding for the study.
The National Center for State Courts released a study this year estimating the litigation costs of various types of civil cases in the U.S.. The model used to estimate costs relied on survey results from attorneys of the time expended to resolve typical types of disputes litigated and their billing rates. The graph below presents the median costs of litigation by case type in the U.S.:
Median Costs of Litigation by Case Type
The European Parliament adopted two key legislative measures regarding the resolution of consumer disputes in Europe. A new regulation mandates that all businesses selling goods or services to consumers online in any European Union member state, excluding those in the health and education sectors, make available a link to a EU-wide online platform that will be set up to handle consumer disputes.
The directive requires all EU member states to implement the Online Dispute Resolution initiative within 2 years of the regulation’s entry into force. The directive applies to any purchase made domestically or across EU borders.
The official press release can be seen below.
Brussels, 12 March 2013
A step forward for EU consumers: Commissioner Tonio Borg welcomes adoption of Out-of-court Dispute Resolution
Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, Tonio Borg, welcomed the vote of the European Parliament on Alternative Dispute Resolution and Online Dispute Resolution (ADR-ODR) today. This vote confirms the agreement on the two proposals put forward by the European Commission in 2011.
Tonio Borg said: “Today, the European Parliament confirmed its agreement on two key proposals for boosting growth in the Single Market and strengthening the Digital economy. ADR and ODR are a win-win for consumers, who will be able to resolve their disputes out-of-court in a simple, fast and low-cost manner, and also for traders who will be able to keep good relations with customers and avoid litigation costs. It must be stressed that the EU institutions achieved a fast agreement which will significantly improve everyday life for consumers across Europe”.
He also added: “I want to take this opportunity to thank the rapporteurs of the two proposals at the European Parliament, Louis Grech and Róża Thun, for their commitment to reach an agreement. I am also grateful to the Member States and the Presidencies of the Council for their intensive work on these files. This is a truly inter-institutional achievement to boost consumers’ and traders’ confidence in the internal market and its digital dimension.”
The rules on ADR will ensure that consumers can turn to quality alternative dispute resolution entities for all kinds of contractual disputes that they have with traders; no matter what they purchased1 and whether they purchased it online or offline, domestically or across borders.
According to the ODR Regulation, an EU-wide online platform will be set up for handling consumer disputes that arise from online transactions. The platform will link all the national alternative dispute resolution entities and operate in all official EU languages.
Raising consumers’ awareness is another pillar of this legislation, as traders will need to provide consumers with adequate information on ADR and ODR.
Member States will have two years to implement the ADR/ODR rules. The ODR platform will be operational at the end of 2015.
For more information:
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By Lance Soskin
There are few elements more important to a free and democratic society than an open, fair and accessible justice system. This is never more apparent than when your liberty or livelihood is at stake.
The executive director of The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, Rebecca Love Kourlis, summed-up nicely the state of the American justice system when she said, “If you get in a car wreck, and there’s an argument about who should be paying damages, your assumption is that you can go to court to have that case resolved. The truth of the matter is that’s probably the last place you want to be, because the fees and the costs will ultimately be more than your car is worth, even if you drive a really nice car.”
Due to the nature of our adversarial justice system, it’s more often than not going to be the party with the high-priced attorney who wins in court rather than the party with the more meritorious case. Litigation is a multi-billion dollar industry that favors the wealthy. Much of that money simply lines the pockets of attorneys who charge on average between $300 and $700 an hour to tell us what the law is and how it can be manipulated in our favor to vanquish our opponents. That’s great for the small percentage of Americans who can afford a skilled lawyer, but it leaves the rest of the population at a significant disadvantage.
Even if you have a legitimate case, if your opponent has a lot more money to spend on high-priced attorneys who employ delay tactics, as Kevin O’Leary of Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den fame would say, either “you’re going to be squashed like the cockroach you are”, or those high-priced lawyers are going to have you tied-up in hearings and motions and pre-trial discovery for so many months or possibly years that you will go broke before you ever get the chance to present the full merits of your case.
Given the complexity of our laws and legal procedures, if we want any hope in hell of protecting our rights, attorneys are a necessary evil. But why should the average person or business owner need to pay tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to get the justice they’re due? If “ignorance of the law is no excuse” when it comes to determining liability or culpability, would it not make more sense for the government to ensure that the laws and procedures can easily be understood by the average person? Shouldn’t justice, in the true sense of the word, be available to everyone?
Although America prides itself on having a fair and accessible government-run justice system, the truth is that for most of us, justice is neither fair, nor easily accessible. The American justice system faces serious issues that are not easily resolved and will not be resolved any time soon without drastic reform. Most of us want, and in fact need, options that are cheaper, quicker and less complicated than going to court or hiring an attorney to fight all our battles. We need to make better use of alternative dispute resolution options such as mediation and arbitration. Given our shrinking budgets, both governments and personal, what other options do we have?