– Dr Julie Macfarlane: The self-represented litigant phenomenon

… Why this is happening and what it means for 21st century models of client service
11.00 in Wilarra-Kirraala

The explosion of self-represented litigants (SRLs) in the family and civil courts raises numerous challenges for justice system stakeholders, requiring a fundamental rethinking of both justice system processes and services currently provided by lawyers. At the same time it opens up new possibilities for the role of Dispute Resolution – court-connected, private and community-based – and Dispute Resolution professionals.

In Julie Macfarlane’s National Self-Represented Litigants Study (2013), based on hundreds of personal interviews conducted in three Canadian provinces, self-represented litigants spoke in detail and at length about their needs in accessing justice systems, as well as their overwhelming frustration with current processes and procedures. The impact on their personal lives – financially, psychologically, socially – is immense and is reflected in widespread public disillusionment with the justice system. The Canadian study is consistent with quantitative studies in other jurisdictions, and reflects trends towards self-representation throughout the common law world.

The international SRL phenomenon has many important consequences not only for the legal profession (widely criticised as being adverse to settlement by the more than 50% of Canadian study respondents who began with a lawyer before running out of funds), but also for the wider Dispute Resolution community and anyone interested in the development of community justice processes. The study demonstrates a disappointing lack of knowledge and understanding among SRLs regarding mediation, even in jurisdictions where court-connected mediation has been offered for many years. Many SRLs are wary of using mediation and other unfamiliar Dispute Resolution processes such as settlement conferences, lacking support and coaching to enable their effective participation.

The international SRL phenomenon is a system problem that implicates system solutions. What role can the Dispute Resolution community play? How can Dispute Resolution professionals contribute to a 21st century justice system in which access to justice and access to resolution are more closely aligned?

Get to know Dr Julie Macfarlane
Julie MacfarlaneDr Julie Macfarlane is a Full Professor in the Faculty of Law, and was awarded a University of Windsor Professorship (the highest honour of the University) 2014. Julie has published widely in the area of conflict resolution, mediation, and legal practice. She is the author of the bestselling The New Lawyer: How Settlement is Transforming the Practice of Law (University of British Colombia Press 2008). Her student textbook Dispute Resolution: Readings and Case Studies is just going into its 4th edition (Emond Montgomery 2015). Both these texts are used widely in law schools throughout North America. In 2012 Julie completed a four year empirical study of Islamic divorce and published Islamic Divorce in North America: A Shari’a Path in a Secular Society (Oxford University Press), attracting much public and media interest. Her new project is the National Self-Represented Litigants Project established at Windsor Law in the wake of the momentum created by her national study of self-representation, published in 2013.

Professor Macfarlane is also an active mediator and Dispute Resolution consultant to a wide range of organisations and government agencies.

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