A litigant in person or LIP is the current name for someone who takes one or more other parties to court without having a solicitor conduct the case for them. LIPs represent themselves in court, although they can hire the services of a solicitor every once in a while.

court housePeople who find themselves in court without legal representation generally do worse in court than people who have a solicitor acting for them. They are less likely to win.

I believe that there are several reasons for that. It often starts with a lack of organisation, lack of preparation. There can also be a lack of resources – not necessarily money, but access to information – or the problem of not knowing how to use those resources and how to interpret various matters.

I think there is another reason why the legal process often trips up unrepresented Britons. The legal process doesn’t work the way everything else does, in Britain.

In daily life, British language use is still under the influence of Victorian habits that dictate that you often don’t say what you mean.  “That’s right. We sort of skirt around the issue and hope that if we do that long enough, you’ll eventually get the message.” responded a woman to me at the University of Surrey where I attended a few workshops for women in business in 2005. I had expressed my frustration to her, of often having no clue what English people meant when they were speaking to me and with often having my words interpreted as something that I had never intended.

That’s generally not how the law works.

Another aspect of life in Britain is a random degree of flexibility when it comes to all sorts of deadlines and procedures. Judges do have some leeway, but they also have to follow many rules that do not allow them any flexibility. I think that this often catches Britons by surprise too.

Do you happen to be thinking about taking someone to court without the aid of a solicitor? There is an online Guide to Representing Yourself in Court by the Bar Council. Also available is a review, which outlines what types of problems LIPs run into and what kind of cases they bring to the courts.

In addition, there is a report on the complaints LIPs submitted to the Bar Standards Board between 1 January 2011 and 31 March 2012 and an article in the Law Gazette that you may want to read.

Before you take someone to court, you are required to take several others steps towards resolving the matter on your own so that you do not have to go to court. If you end up in court in spite of all the steps you took, you must have prepared your case well. Going to court is not easy.

Court can be even more confusing if someone else starts proceedings against you. Then too, it helps to be prepared and having some idea of what to expect. It can already help a lot to have someone else there with you, when you need to attend a hearing.

I may be able to help you. Keep in mind, however, that I am a lay person with no qualifications in a field of law. Among other things, that means that I have no right to speak on your behalf to the judge in court.

Benefits for you if you and I team up:

  • Time savings;
  • Greater efficiency;
  • Increased peace of mind;
  • Possibly, greater respect from the court.

Specific tasks I can assist you with:

  • Your research, legal as well as practical;
  • Drafting and editing of your documents and letters;
  • Helping you organise your documentation;
  • Thinking along with you when you plan your strategy;
  • Helping you gain greater insight;
  • Helping you plan and spotting matters you may be overlooking;
  • court of lawTaking notes during court hearings if I am allowed to be present as a McKenzie friend and sit next to you (and attending as a member of the public, if not);
  • Obtaining documentation you need, including evidence, for example through subject access requests;
  • Endeavouring to find solutions that avoid having to start court proceedings (which can mean that I refer you to another party);
  • Helping you keep track of deadlines;
  • Sharpen your public speaking skills so you may feel more confident and more relaxed if you have to go to a court hearing and address the judge.

Also important is that I can help you keep your cool. It can really make a difference to have someone you can call and talk freely with about your case. Taking someone to court on your own can be a stressful and lonely experience. The people around you may be generally supportive, but you may not always find true understanding when you want to share your thoughts with them about the piece of legislation you just discovered, the interesting case you ran into, or what the judge said to you in a hearing. At such a time, I could be just a phone call away.

I should tell you that I never pretend to have all the answers. I don’t. Knowledge is not the same as being able to rattle off a bunch of dry facts. Knowledge means that you know where to find information that you don’t have yet, and are able to use that information.

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