Bringing a friend or family member to court doubles one’s chances of success, the FLAC conference on access to justice heard on Friday.
Les Allamby of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission said that their research had shown that many lay litigants “floated in and out of” personal representation.
Uncertainty about the ultimate cost was a big factor in lay litigants deciding to represent themselves in court, he said.
The research showed that poor customer care rather than poor legal advice was a factor in the lay litigant’s decision to self-represent.
Others didn’t like the advice they were getting, or felt there was a code of etiquette and procedures that lawyers and judges understood, and from which they were excluded.
Surprisingly, more highly educated and better-off people fared worse in the courts system if they self-represented, perhaps due to possessing false confidence that they could get through their case without any legal advice.
Those struggling from day one got more help and better results, the research revealed
“We cannot change lay litigants into lawyers – and nor should we,” Mr Allamby said.
Often people desired some assistance, rather than the current ‘all-or-nothing’ approach, he believed.
Pro bono work was an inherent professional responsibility for Australian lawyers, David Hillard (pro bono partner at Clayton Utz, Sydney) told the FLAC conference.
Senior lawyers were not eligible for partnership unless they had completed at least 40 hours of pro bono work in that year, he explained.