Many people who decide to represent themselves in court are underestimating the value of having a lawyer, with media stories of ‘fat cat’ lawyers encouraging more people to take matters into their own hands, research from charity Citizens Advice has revealed.
The charity’s report also highlights the negative experiences of those who pursue cases without legal representation, known as litigants in person (LiP).
According to Citizen’s Advice, the stress, responsibility and loneliness of going to court without representation can mean ‘litigants in person achieve worse outcomes compared with their represented counterparts’.
It also showed 90 per cent of people who had been LiPS found the experience negatively affected their health, relationships, work or finances. Some lost their jobs due to the pressure, whilst others got into debt due to court issues, including paying for photocopying and travelling to and from court.
Meanwhile, 70 per cent reported they might ‘think twice’ about taking a case to court themselves if they could not afford a lawyer.
The charity said the rise in litigants in person was mainly a result of clients being unable to afford a lawyer due to reduced funding for those going to the family court following the implementation of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) in 2013. But it also noted that some people chose to be unrepresented as they either mistrusted lawyers or were not aware of the value lawyers could bring to their case. The charity said unclear information about the services lawyers provide “makes it difficult for people to judge the quality of a professional or compare services”.
The report said consumers are not being guided to the increasingly widespread unbundling services lawyers now offer.
It said that without clear information, unrealistic expectations cause people to feel frustrated with the service they receive. This, combined with a lack of awareness of consumer protections, means one poor experience can “put someone off the whole sector”.
The charity said it was only after people had been through the process of going to the family court that they realised the value of having a lawyer, with 70 per cent saying that instructing a professional would have benefited their court experience.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “For people representing themselves in the family courts, whether in a divorce case or to keep the legal right to see their children, the workload to prepare can be unmanageable. In extreme cases people are quitting their job so they have the time to do research before going to court.
“The stress of making your case against qualified barristers and navigating complex court processes without the right guidance can make existing mental and physical health problems worse.”
Surjit Verdi, a family law specialist with Palmers said: “Sadly, there is evidence that some individuals, who have attempted to save money on legal fees, have ended up losing far more because they were unable to navigate the court system or their lack of legal knowledge was exploited by the other side.
“Seeking legal advice from a reputable firm that clearly sets out its costs so that there are no nasty surprises makes good economic sense, as the alternative of going it alone may end up costing far more than you bargain for.”
For more information on advice regarding all aspects of family law, please contact us.