"I hesitate not to pronounce, that every man who is his own lawyer, has a fool for a client" (Henry Kett, 1814)
There are few things that are more likely to make a litigator's heart sink than to find that his opponent is acting for himself. Even those of us who have chosen to spend our professional lives fighting for others in court recognise the truth in Henry Kett's words and seek the opinion of others on our own disputes. Sometimes you have to accept that you are too close to look at matters objectively.
Add into the equation a person acting on his own behalf who has no legal training and you could be forgiven for thinking that it was the legal equivalent of handing the keys to the surgical supply room to the man on the hospital trolley and suggesting he Google "open heart surgery".
So the robing rooms across the country no doubt witnessed much groaning on the recent publication of a report carried out by the Bar for The Times which suggests that cases involving litigants in person substantially increased over the last year and this is a trend that is set to continue.
The Times reports a rise of 40 per cent over the last year and predicts that by April 2013 the number of cases in which there is a party acting without lawyers will reach 650,000 a year. Or, putting it another way, one in four of all cases in the civil courts.
The poll also suggests that this is not a case of an increase in the use of the small claims procedure (where the involvement of lawyers is certainly not encouraged) but instead involves proceedings where at least one party has involved lawyers; half of the barristers questioned had acted in cases involving unrepresented litigants in recent months and most of them more than twice.
There is certainly a place for a procedure where disputes can be resolved quickly and inexpensively and without the use (or extensive use) of lawyers but, as far as the bigger disputes are concerned, Henry Kett's advice should be heeded. The driver for the litigant in person appears to be cost, but even with Legal Aid cuts, there is no need for cost to be a real factor in even the biggest cases. A good case - one with a reasonable chance of succeeding - should find some lawyer willing to act on the basis of a Conditional Fee Agreement (more commonly known as "no win, no fee"). Yes, it will probably involve you paying some legal fees if you settle (which the vast majority of cases do), but, to use the old adage a share of something is better than the whole of nothing. In our experience, lawyers tend to get better results than litigants in person, however intelligent and however much time they have to spend on their case.
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