Woody just sent me a link to a podcast conversation he had with our friend, Dr. Julie Macfarlane, the director of the National Self-Represented Litigants Project (NSRLP). In this podcast, entitled “Back to the Future of Legal Services,” they talked about the origins of the unbundling movement (which Woody initiated) as well as the current status of unbundling and prospects for the future.
Julie, who is on the faculty at the University of Windsor, has done great empirical research on lots of issues in law and dispute resolution. In 2013, she published a study on self-represented litigants (SRL), who are sometimes called unrepresented or pro se or pro per parties, though SRL is the best term these days. The study focused on three Canadian provinces and documented numerous challenges that SRLs face – as well as challenges for the courts and lawyers who deal with them.
The NSRLP is an outgrowth of this study and “is committed to advancing understanding of the challenges and hard choices facing the very large numbers of Canadians who now come to court without counsel. The NSRLP works to promote dialogue and collaboration among all those affected by the self-represented litigant phenomenon, both justice system professionals and litigants themselves. We regularly publish resources designed specifically for SRLs, as well as research reports that examine the implications for the justice system.”
Many courts, especially family courts, are overwhelmed in dealing with SRLs. This is a difficult dispute system design problem considering that so many people can’t afford legal services, even unbundled legal services. SRLs also create a challenge for lawyers dealing with SRLs – but also represent an opportunity for lawyers who want to provide unbundled legal services.
The NSRLP website is a great resource about helping SRLs. Check it out if you are interested in this subject.