A lack of organisation!
I am from a ridiculously well-organised and overregulated country – the Netherlands – so Britain’s relative state of disarray was initially quite bewildering to me when I arrived here many years ago.
Granted, it also creates a sense of freedom, though I am not so sure that Britons experience it that way too.
A lack of organisation can be disastrous for conducting legal proceedings. Keep all your documentation within easy reach and filed in a logical order that enables you to retrieve any document very quickly. Some of my other tips may help you with that.
You may have to work very hard to obtain any documentation that supports or undermines your case. The reward for that is the occasional surprise when you encounter a wonderful willingness to help you along with the products of great organisation.
Being well-organised has another benefit. In general, Britons are famous for their “muddled thinking”. (I am quoting a Briton here! Richard Lewis, a guy with the kind of high-level insights I wish I had.) When conducting a court case, muddled thinking is not an asset. If you organise your materials well, it will also help you organise your thoughts.
I promised I would elaborate.
How can a lack of money trip you up?
Some filings are crucial, which means that paying the fees for them is crucial as well. If you have to rely on a fee remission, the fee remission process can take you past the filing deadline. It means that a judge can order you to file the crucial form as soon as possible if you don’t want your case to be thrown out.
From the start, be aware of which filings are crucial and how much the fees are. Set the funds aside or borrow the money from friends. File the document and file the fee remission paperwork at the same time. Pay your friends back as soon as you receive the cheque from the court and your bank has processed it.
Also, make sure you do not run out of ink or paper at the wrong time. Have enough envelopes in stock and don’t run out of stamps or money for stamps.
Below are some hurdles that I believe can trip up English litigants in person (LIPs). I will elaborate on each of these hurdles in following posts.
A lack of funds;
A lack of organisation;
The dislike of confident people;
A misunderstanding of rules and deadlines;
The use of euphemisms and confusing language;
A lack of understanding of the legal foundation for a case.
As a litigant in person, you also have be able to spend the time as and when required and you may need access to resources you don’t have or are not aware of, such as databases.
One of the cornerstones of legal undertakings is good organisation. Earlier, I mentioned the usefulness of Jalema clips and cable ties. Here are three more tips.
Stock up on bulldog clips or, preferably, foldback binder clips to keep your pages together when you’re still working on them and haven’t punched holes in them yet. Foldback binder clips come in all sizes and are usually black, but are also available in brighter colours and without any colour (metal).
If you’re copying many pages and are worried that one of the pages might accidentally get lost, print the information (what document the page belongs to) on the paper sheets before you copy onto the other side of the sheets. (If you include page numbers, have hundreds of pages, and something goes wrong, consider inserting pages like 18a, 18b and 18c if that means you don’t have to start all over again. It’s not elegant, but it’s practical.)
If you have a ring binder and are concerned about pages falling from it, tie a ribbon (or a piece of string) around it, so that each of the three open sides has one piece of ribbon or string that will stop a page from falling out. It can also help you identify your binder quickly.
Staying organised is one of the corner stones of legal undertakings. Never forget this name:
J A L E M A.
Jalema clips are the ultimate when it comes to keeping papers organised. I have been using Jalema clips for decades. The video at the bottom of this post shows you how they work.
But what to do when you’ve run out of Jalema clips and you have bundles to bind? Grab some cable ties! Less elegant, but effective enough when you’re in a hurry.
For cases and businesses with a lot of paperwork that needs to be filed, I have one more tip. If you are lucky enough to pass through the Netherlands every once in a while, see if you can purchase some of those patented Loeff’s file boxes.
They come as flat packs, so you can stack them against the wall behind your desk or bookcase to fold and use them as needed. They’re great. I haven’t spotted them in the UK yet, but in the Netherlands and Belgium, you may be able to purchase them at professional office stores or order them from Viking Direct.
The Bar Council has a guide for you, on representing yourself in court (a PDF).
You are allowed to have someone sitting with you who can help you in court, for instance, by taking notes, but who is not a lawyer. It is called a McKenzie Friend. There is also a guide on what McKenzie Friends can and cannot do (a PDF).
The fact that we have rights means that we have duties.
Everyone has rights, so we all have the duty to respect each other’s rights. That is the basis of our rights.
Do you have a scanner?
Then consider scanning every legal document you have – such as diplomas, rent agreements, birth certificates and insurance papers – and keeping those scans in a safe place online.
If you don’t have a scanner, think about making copies of all such documents, and keeping those copies in a large envelope at the house of a good friend.
That way, if a storm damages your roof and the resulting leak causes extensive water damage to your paperwork or any other kind of unplanned event occurs that means that you no longer have your documents, at least you will have copies of them.
It may take you a few hours to catch up right now, but it can save you a lot of time and effort later. And once you’ve done it, it is easy to keep up.
When you’re renting a new home and are told that your pets are not a problem, check out the rent agreement you are asked to sign.
If the rent agreement says that you are not allowed to keep pets, strike out the “no pets allowed” bit and use a pen to write in the margin of the agreement that you do have pets.
Then put your signature right under the words that you’ve just written. Have the landlord or letting agent put their signature there too. Do this with both copies of the agreement (the one you will have and the one that your landlord or letting agent will have).
If you do do this and there are problems of any kind later, you can prove that the landlord or letting agent allowed you to have pets (because it was put down in writing and signed by both parties) if you need to.
When I rented my first home in the UK and flew in to sign the rent agreement, the letting agents didn’t like it when I scribbled in the margin that I had pets. Hey, otherwise, I would have signed something that I knew to be untrue! I assumed that the agents had trouble finding a new renter and didn’t want the landlord to know that they’d allowed a tenant to have pets. That wasn’t the case, as I later heard and it made me think.
A little honesty can go a long way.
If you approach another person with honesty, the chance that you’ll get honesty in return is much greater.
Last week, a District Judge gave me some excellent advice for litigants in person. I am going to share it with you. ‘Appearing in court is both stressful and confusing’, he wrote.
“If asked for advice on what in particular a litigant in person needs to do, I would say that preparation is essential: get all papers and other evidence in order and easily accessible, read it all thoroughly and prepare notes on the points that will need to be made. So often parties attend court without the bare essentials and immediately they are at a disadvantage and whilst a judge will do as much as he or she can, ultimately it is the litigant who has to conduct the case.”
Note the use of the word ‘forced’. Indeed, taking someone to court should not be done lightly. It costs money, a lot of effort and a great deal of time and you can end up owing a large sum to the other party if things do not go your way.
Disclaimer: I am not a solicitor or barrister, but a lay person without any legal qualifications. The law does not grant me the authority to give legal advice and nothing in this post should be construed to be legal advice. Please contact a solicitor if you do need legal advice.