It’s time to do something about self-reps
By Gary Joseph
Managing Partner, MacDonald & Partners LLP
The cost of dental services continues to rise. Only a small percentage of our population has the advantage of a benefits plan to cover all or at least part of the cost. It is well accepted that good dental hygiene contributes to a person’s overall health. Consider how the various dental associations react to this concern. WATCH VIDEO
Our city was recently plastered with billboards encouraging us to use the services of our local dentist. We are told, “Dentists make us smile.” There is little handwringing among our politicians and leaders to reduce the cost of dental services or to encourage the public to “be your own dentist.” There are no clinics set up where the poor, indigent and those who are simply cheap can “clean their own teeth” under the guidance of a dentist or a “quasi dentist.”
Now, consider legal services and the continuous outcry for access to justice. Admittedly the cost of legal services has increased significantly and few members of the public have legal insurance plans. Access to justice is a value well worth defending. So how has the legal profession responded?
Bowing to pressure from politicians and judges (and those who desperately wish to be either politicians or judges), we have encouraged people to be their own lawyer. Programs and clinics have been set up to assist the “self-rep” (those who choose to be their own lawyer).
Our courts are now flooded with these would-be Perry Masons!
The problems this has caused the judicial system are endless. Drawn-out proceedings; judges bending over backwards to assist and accommodate self-reps while forgetting the mandate of fairness extends to both sides even those who are wise enough to retain counsel; decisions based upon inadequate evidence; the rules of evidence being turned upside down and finally, a diminishing body of reliable jurisprudence upon which future litigants can rely.
I am all for access to justice but let’s understand what this truly means. I can have access to a dentist’s office, but without a trained professional to assist me, you can imagine the mess I will make of my teeth.
It’s the same with the court system. If the government is truly concerned with access to justice they would fund a legal aid system such that poor and middle class citizens could secure legal services to help them through a legal problem. They would pay lawyers a legal aid rate such that more lawyers would join the plan (the current rates pay less than the hourly rate to operate a law office). They would stop encouraging the self-rep! It is a cheap fix with long term detrimental consequences.
My practice does not include legal aid work, but I see daily the serious problems caused by the self-rep. Time to do something about it.