Litigants-in-person: why representing yourself could be a recipe for disaster

Illustration: two figures standing below a gavel

We’ve all seen movies where those on trial dismiss their legal representatives and win the case with a wonderful speech that has the judge in tears. The reality in our UK courts is starkly different.

Director Rita Gupta discusses why people who represent themselves in court, known as litigants in person, will be putting a lot more on the line than just saving some money on legal fees.

“While the myth persists that judges take a more sympathetic approach to litigants in person (LiPs), in my personal experience, the tide is rapidly turning. A High Court judge recently struck out a claim from a litigant in person who claimed that he "didn't have a detailed knowledge of insolvency regulations." 

His Honour Judge Paul Matthews made it very clear that just because you choose to represent yourself, you can’t be given special dispensation.

“You cannot successfully claim that an apple is an orange, on the grounds that you do not know the difference because you are a litigant in person. Defendants also have rights, including the right not to be made liable for causes of action which do not lie against them.”


LiPs in local Reading and national courts

It’s a trend we also see here at LGFL Ltd when we attend various courts on behalf of our clients. So often, litigants in person struggle with the whole process of legal proceedings and are badly prepared, so the judge has to continually explain terminology and points of law. As a result, cases can go on much longer than required, and judges are becoming increasingly strained with the resulting wastage of court time.

Often work can be passed to the represented party’s lawyers which in turn increases their legal fees. This can seem manifestly unfair to the party who has chosen and paid to be legally represented. In turn, this can lead to resentment and isn’t always the way to build ongoing civil relations.

Self-representation in family law cases

Sadly, being a LiP can be unsatisfactory for everyone involved, especially in family law cases. Between April and June 2017, there were 13,029 new private law applications that involved 28,278 children. That’s a lot of responsibility on the litigant in person, and a lot of stress and worry for thousands of children.


Equal treatment regardless of representation

The Judicial College has just issued the latest update to the ‘Equal Treatment Bench Book’, a guide for judges to ensure people leave court “Conscious of having appeared before a fair-minded tribunal”. The book also specifically states that:

“Litigants in person should not be seen as an unwelcome problem for the court or tribunal. Judges may not be able to assist them with their case, but can ensure they have every reasonable opportunity to present it.”


Why proper legal representation can be crucial to your success

The trend away from legal representation has got to a stage where we actually had a judge remark to us recently, “It’s so nice to see a solicitor.” There’s a good reason for this. Representing our clients regularly within court proceedings, we know the way courts work. We come in fully prepared, with all the relevant paperwork. That saves everyone a lot of time from the outset.

As the case proceeds, we use our years of experience and in-depth legal knowledge to assess and deal with whatever legal arguments the other party’s lawyers might counter with.


Keep calm and help your case

Most of all, we stay calm. A courtroom is our place of work, and we are always professional. We don’t get nervous, flustered, angry or overly emotional. That’s not say we are cold or impersonal; we just know how much humanity, humility and occasionally humour to mix into the case, to achieve the right results for our clients. This is something that can be very difficult for even the strongest people to deal with, when it is their child that is the subject of proceedings, or their future financial security at stake.

In turn, as our client, you can let us do the hard work without worry. An appearance in court can be a very intimidating and nerve-wracking experience, and the last thing you need is to be worried about paperwork or procedure.

We always fully brief you before you come into court with us, so you’ll know our approach, our methods and your core arguments. We’ll also share ways you can help yourself when in the presence of the judge, and in divorce cases, your estranged spouse.

Our work starts now

That hard work starts weeks or (preferably) months before the actual court date. We work with you to collect and collate all the appropriate evidence, information and details required to present your case in the best way possible. We know how to fill in important forms, and when the deadlines are. We’ll make sure you understand exactly what your case hinges on, and we’ll work towards getting the best possible outcome for you and your family that suits you, not us.


Do litigants in person actually save money?

We know lawyers fees may seem expensive compared to some other professional fees. Many litigants in person, especially in divorce cases, decide to self-represent as a cost-saving measure. As the Judicial College noted recently, the number of litigants in person will probably continue to rise “As a result of financial constraints and the consequences of the legal aid reforms.”

It is, however, a false economy, as litigants in person may not ask for the right deal, or understand what can and cannot be legally theirs. As a district judge said in a recent case, LiPs are not entitled to “Special rules or indulgences”.

More importantly, many LiPs ignore the very significant amount of time and energy it takes to prepare their case. The sheer volume of work required will inevitably eat into family time, work time and (most likely) keep them awake at night. It’s a considerable mental, physical and emotion pressure that many LiPs underestimate.


Easing the stress of divorce court cases

By instructing LGFL Ltd to represent you, we take away that burden. We spend the time and the energy, do the checking and fact-finding, and even make a very early start on court day just to make sure we’ve got everything covered for your court date. Proper legal advice and high quality representation is one of the few instances when money really can buy you peace of mind!

As our client, you can often achieve a better level of success that you anticipate in all aspects of your divorce, from financial settlements to child arrangements. Many clients find that our professional fees and costs are more than recouped in terms of higher financial settlements, better child arrangements and other logistical details.


Want the best outcome? Call LGFL

If you’d like to discuss your situation with us, call and book one of our free 30-minute consultations. It’s an informal, no obligation meeting where you can explain your situation, and meet us in person too.

We now offer these meetings at various venues in Reading and surrounding location, including our own offices in Wyvols Court, Swallowfield and the more informal surroundings at Spaces in Reading.

To book your appointment, contact us, and one of our team will get back to you within 48 hours, (or first thing Monday if you send this over the weekend).