How to Represent Yourself in Canadian Courts? [video]

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Over 50 to 60% of people in Canadian civil courts represent themselves without the assistance of a lawyer. Many self-represented litigants find this process daunting. This lecture outlines the best approach to self-representation.

This lecture is taught by Amer Mushtaq, LL.B., M. Engineering , B.Sc. (Hons.), who is the Principal and Founder of Formative LLP.   Through his YouTube channel, YouCounsel, Amer shares practical advice from his years of legal experience to help anyone access justice and achieve their goals.  Subscribe today to learn more.

Show Notes:


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The team at Formative LLP has created a free discussion forum where anyone can post a legal question and get feedback from the wider audience of self represented litigants.  Join the discussion today!

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Welcome everyone, this is Amer Mushtaq from You Counsel. Many of you may not know this, but 50, 60 up to 70 percent of the people who have their cases in civil courts in Canada are no longer represented by lawyers or paralegals – they are representing themselves.

There have been studies done to explore this issue in detail and these studies suggest that the two common reasons are that the cost of legal services are so high that it is not possible for many people to retain lawyers. And to give you an example, an average trial in Ontario in Toronto which runs for about two to three days, can cost upwards of $50,000 from the time you hire your lawyer, in the beginning till the time the matter goes to trial and it’s completed. So, those are sort of the average cost of legal services or lawyer services in Ontario, which is significantly high, and people can no longer afford it. And another reason that comes up often is that people were not satisfied with the kind of legal services that they received from their legal practitioners and they decided to take control of their own matters. So we’ll talk today about what self-representation is and how to do it.

The usual disclaimer that we provide is that this course is not legal advice so if you have any specific questions you should contact a lawyer or paralegal or referral service of your Law of Society of your province.

Self-representation, so, what does it mean? We’ll talk about it; can you do it as a person who is not a lawyer or a paralegal? Should you do it and if you decide to do it, how do you how should you go about it?

What does that mean? When you’re representing yourself that means that you’re dealing with all lawyers from other parties, you’re dealing with them directly, or any legal practitioners … you’re dealing with courts, judges, the courts staff. You’re standing before the judge and making your arguments representing your case in every manner, dealing with other parties, or non-parties if they are related to your court action … you deal with all of them. So, in essence, you are the lawyer everything that was previously done by a lawyer now is being done by you, so, you are the quarterback you are the person who is in charge.

Can you do it? This question is answered by the Rules of Civil Procedure every, province has its own Rules of Civil Procedure, Ontario has the rules that are called Rules of Civil Procedure Ontario and they will tell you whether you can represent yourself or not.

In Ontario, it’s Rule 15, that deals with self-representation and we’ll talk about it. And then this Rule, Rule 15, also lists circumstances where you cannot represent yourself. So there are generally three circumstances. One is if you have any disability. If you are a person of under disability, then you must retain counsel to represent you in your legal matters. If you are acting in a Representative Capacity, and what does that mean? I’ll give you an example, let’s say if you are the Estate Trustee of an estate, then you are acting in a Representative Capacity and so, then you must have a lawyer representing the estate. And third, the situation if you’re a corporation, you cannot represent yourself, the only exception is that the corporation can seek permission from the court and if it’s granted, then the corporation can represent itself, meaning that an officer or a director of the corporation can represent the corporation. So, those are the three circumstances where you cannot, in every other case, you should be able to represent yourself.

In Ontario, let’s look at the rules; you have seen this before, in previous lectures this is Rule of Civil Procedure RRO1990 regulation 194. These rules are available online if you Google it, and let’s go scroll down to show the table of contents and we’re going to look at Rule 15 which is down here, Representation by a Lawyer.

And if you read this rule, I’ve given you the gist of it, if you’re under disability or if you are in a Representative Capacity, then you know you shall be represented, meaning a lawyer must represent that party. And then if you’re a corporation you can do that, you cannot represent, you shall be represented by a lawyer except with leave of court, meaning that you need court’s permission. So, this is the rule that talks about it and if you follow on 15.01 Sub 3, any other party to a proceeding may act in person or be represented by a lawyer. So, if you don’t fall under these three categories then you are allowed to represent yourself or choose a lawyer to represent you and we’ll come down to sub rule subsection 4 in a bit.

Should you do it, what is my answer? Absolutely yes. This lecture is really not about me persuading you and giving you the benefits of self-representation, this is for people who already believe that they can represent themselves or find themselves in a situation where they have no option but to represent themselves so, we’re going to talk about how to do it. I will provide a separate lecture and you will hear me talking about the issue of self-representation and advocating for it endlessly so, that’s something that’s close to my heart, but we’re going to talk about it at another stage.

So, let’s jump right into how to do it, and we’ll look at Rule 15.01 Sub 1 Sub 2 and Limited Scope Retainer and Unbundled Services. I’ve thrown three terms at you, especially a Limited Scope Retainer, so, let’s look at what does this mean. So, we go back to our Rules of Civil Procedure and let’s type in, “Limited Scope Retainer”. Lets go all the way up, so, “Limited Scope Retainer”. And we’re looking at 15.01 Sub 1, Sub 4. So, Sub Rule 3 permits a party to be represented by a lawyer acting under a Limited Scope Retainer, but a Limited Scope Retainer does not in itself make a lawyer, the lawyer of record for the party, so, what does this mean? In simple terms, you’re allowed to have a lawyer represent you on a limited basis. That’s essentially what it means. And so, what is a Limited Scope Retainer? We want to look at the definition and see if these Rules of Civil Procedure do provide for a definition. So limited lets type it again. Right here it provides the definition, what is a Limited Scope Retainer? It means, “the provision of legal services by a lawyer for part but not all of a client’s legal matter by agreement between the lawyer and the client”. So, two things that come out of it out of these rules, one is that Limited Scope Retainer is allowed and then it’s defined as services provided by lawyer which are not full services, only in part as long as you the client and the lawyer agree to it.

So, I just want to give you a bit of a background of why this particular section of Rules of Civil Procedure is important. Back in the days, not too long ago, when you had a legal matter and you had to go to court you will go hire a lawyer and the lawyer will be the Lawyer of Record, meaning that the lawyer’s name would be in courts or records and anything that relates to that action, your action, you know your lawyer, will be dealing with it on your behalf, and the lawyer will be retained for the entire matter is the full retainer. You hire the lawyer, you do the consultation, the lawyer does drafting, the lawyer does representation, the lawyer writes to other sides to correspond with everybody else, and you are basically sort of, you know, advising. You are instructing the lawyer, but the lawyer is doing everything on your behalf. That thing has changed now, and so, now the Law Societies have opened up to the idea of Unbundled Services and Unbundled Services and Limited Scope Retainer are kind of similar things.

So, before it was all Bundled Services. So, you hired a lawyer he does everything for you all the way to the end, and now you can pick and choose. You can assign specific tasks to a lawyer. So, you hire a lawyer for a specific task and otherwise you don’t need that lawyer. So, that’s called a Limited Scope Retainer, that’s called Unbundled Service, it was not available before or is not available as readily before, and it is something which is very, very, valuable and very underutilized. People just don’t understand this concept and they don’t know how to best use this idea and so, I’m going to sort of explain to you how to benefit from it. So, you get the best of the both worlds right? You spend less money, you get all the legal advice on the topics on the points that you actually need; and then you save your money on other matters that you actually do not need any legal representation or legal advice on that matter.

So, keep in mind that in a Limited Scope Retainer, in Unbundled Services, you are in charge. You are the lawyer, you are the quarterback you decide how things are done, and then you bring in a lawyer as needed. So, you decide at what stage you need, and a lot of times where you need legal advice is to understand the basics of the law applicable to your facts situation and understand the processes, because process legal process, can get complicated. But if you can get an understanding of that from a lawyer then you understand it better and then you can deal with your matters yourself. So, in my humble suggestion, what you do is you, do a consultation with your lawyer, at the outset of the case. So you walk in you talk to a lawyer and say this is my fact, this is what happened, somebody let’s take an example, “John Smith owes me $20,000 he had borrowed from me and he’s not giving it back to me what do I do”? And then in that consultation the lawyer tells you which court you go to, what is the process, you know all of these things, he’ll give you the fundamental information and guide you in terms of what homework what research, what things you have to do now to prepare that case. So, that’s an initial consultation.

My suggestion is get the initial consultation at the outset to understand the case, and then figure out a strategy with a lawyer, you know, how you go about doing it, what are the things that you let go in your case, what are the things that you emphasize upon, all of these things that’s part of the strategy – you discuss with your lawyer. And then, throughout the course of your case, you use your lawyer as your sounding board. You come back to your lawyer and say, “hey, this is what happened what do you think?”, and those are sort of very Limited Retainers Limited Advice, which gives you the exact thing you need and then you can go back and then work hard on your case and then continue to represent yourself.

So, that’s where the Limited Scope Retainer or Unbundled Services are used best and this is what I strongly recommend. And you’ll be amazed you’ll be surprised and I’ll give you an example how much money you can save. I have a client who I represented on a matter without you know not as an Unbundled Services, but fully represented him but he had some other issues. And I recommended to him that because his issues did not carry that much monetary value, it wasn’t worth it for me to get involved as a lawyer because it would have cost him a lot more from my representation than to sort of act on his own. And so, my suggestion to him was that why don’t you represent yourself and I’ll give you advice and I’ll give you directions and then you use them, those directions and then represent yourself and he actually followed that strategy, and this is sort of, a more recent example. And he actually had a case against a Legal Practitioner who had been practicing for many, many years a personal case against him, and he ended up having I think three different motions, one in Small Claims Court, one in Divisional Court, and then some other matter. And he was successful in every single motion, every single time he was successful simply because, a) he got a better understanding during the consultations and then he worked hard on the stuff that was needed and he presented it properly and he was successful. So, it’s not something that is too complicated … if you align your resources properly and then get the direction and get the advice when you need it, and then work hard on the stuff that you have to work hard on.

So, let’s talk about some of the resources that you have, there are more and more resources coming out to help self-represented litigants. The first one, I recommend is National Self-Represented Litigants Project, this is run by Professor Judy McFarland, she’s a professor at Windsor Law School and check out her website. I will provide the information in the description under this course, but check out her website. They also have a database of lawyers, a national database, where you can find which lawyers are available to provide Unbundled Services. Some lawyers are still reluctant to provide Unbundled Services for obvious reasons, but there are many lawyers who are willing to do that myself included, and so you get that information from there. Legal Aid Ontario has put up some YouTube videos, which are helpful on some basic legal topics that will increase your legal knowledge about different matter so by all means check that out.

We strongly believe that You Counsel will be your fundamental source for everything law, everything legal. We try to simplify it in a way that you can understand the law and benefit from it directly. We also have You Counsel forums, which is a forum where people can provide comments and post questions in their experiences of law, so, that will continue to develop and you can get information from there. And one resource, which is often neglected or underutilized are law libraries. Law libraries are available to public and especially Osgoode Hall Library downtown in Toronto is available. And if you go talk to a reference librarians, they are a source of, you know, so much information and they’re so underutilized and they’re very helpful so go talk to them get the basic information, do your research, do your homework, and there is no reason why you will not be able to effectively represent your case and win your cases through self-representation.

I’m a strong advocate of it; you will hear me talk about this endlessly. You Counsel’s basic purpose raison d’être … is really to empower the public and give them the opportunity to understand the law, participate in it, and then plead their own cases without the assistance of intermediaries.

Hopefully this was helpful, we’ll talk more about it you’re welcome to contact us. And just so you know in terms of consultation, you notice I have this Clarity.FM place and so, this is sort of one venue where actually I provide answers to basic questions on a payment by minute. Usually you retain lawyers on an hourly basis, and you have to even for a consultation you have to pay for an hour, but you can literally talk to me for three minutes and spend only $15, $20 and get your answers and then focus on your case, so it’s possible, it’s being done, other lawyers will be following soon. Hopefully this is helpful and we’ll see you in the next lecture.

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