The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Yves Faguy

How self-represented litigants view the justice system

February 17 2017 17 February 2017


The National Self-Represented Litigants Project has released its report for 2015-16 tracking trends among the SRL population, including data about income:

We continue to see the majority of those representing themselves reporting lower income levels below $50,000 with the majority below $30,000. In the latest sampling, 51% state that their income is under $30,000 (in the 2013 Study this figure was 40%, and in the 2014-15 Intake Report it was 45%).

The next largest group (15%) report annual income of between $50,000- $75,000, followed closely by those reporting income of $30,000-$50,000 (1%). This also closely resembles the data reported in both the 2013 Study and the 2014-15 Intake Report.

Also consistent with earlier reporting, 8% of respondents (6% in both the 2013 Study and the 2014-15 Intake Report) report earning more than $100,000. As income rises, so does the likelihood that the respondent previously retained a lawyer for this matter7. One respondent in this sample group reported having spent more than $100,000 on legal fees before becoming self-represented.

In a blog post commenting the findings, Julie Macfarlane notes that the trends are in keeping with previous reports, but she notes that, judging by responses to tips they would give to others, the SRLs may be becoming more sophisticated:

SRLs are offering others practical, accurate and important tips on how to manage the legal process. The advice that SRLs offer others on how to navigate court procedures – including tips on how to conduct legal research (and its importance), how to complete court forms, useful websites – are far more substantive and detailed now than they were when I first began asking this question in 2011. For example, many describe the importance of keeping to the facts and staying away from emotionally charged statements in legal documents (for example, “when preparing court documents, make it simple as much as possible and relevant to the matter.”)


Finally, there is what I personally find to be an astonishing level of calm, measured, self-awareness in the ways in which SRLs advise others on how to manage the psychological and emotional impact of self-representation. Some recommend finding a therapist to work with throughout the process (and suggest free services). Many more offer sage advice that emphasizes the need to stay focused on the goal, consider settlement if possible, and avoid escalation with the other side, and avoid being distracted by hurtful but irrelevant allegations. The bottom line, as one SRL puts it, is “(D)on’t forget the rest of your life. You will burn out otherwise.”


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