Macfarlane Study on Self-Represented Litigants Released

UPDATE: The hyperlink to the study was changed by the Project and has now been updated here. The hyperlink to the executive summary remains broken. (September 12, 2013)

The National Self Represented Litigants Project headed by University of Windsor prof Julie Macfarlane has released its report, “Identifying and Meeting the Needs of Self-Represented Litigants.“. There is also available an executive summary of the report.

The Project interviewed 283 self-represented litigants from Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, as well as 107 providers of advice or other legal service.

Despite the presence of a large amount of online information relevant to their legal issues, a large number of the litigants became confused and overwhelmed by the tasks involved in self-representation, finding the online material not helpful in addressing the particular practical steps they faced in the legal process. The executive summary concludes, generally:

The study data illustrates a range of negative consequences experienced by SRL’s as a result of representing themselves. These include depletion of personal funds and savings for other purposes; instability or loss of employment caused by the amount of time required to manage their legal case; social and emotional isolation from friends and family as the case becomes increasingly complex and overwhelming; and a myriad of health issues both physical and emotionally.

The 150 page report contains a fair number of detailed “preliminary” recommendations, addressing such matters as the filling of court forms, the nature of online information, the re-examination of the current distinction between legal information and legal advice, and the unbundling of legal services.

The study was financed by the Law Foundations of the three provinces involved.


  1. When it comes to representing yourself in a small claims court, the process is fairly simple and the on-line resources found are adequate to say the least.
    But when it comes to anything more than “He Said She Said” and you’re dealing with the proceedure of the court, the documents and the intimidation factor, you have a completely different animal. People think this animal is controlable before it gets away on you, and it’s not, if you don’t have the patience, the time and the mind to follow the zig-zag motion of the road the case is on.
    The more so when involved, such as amount of money, kids, criminal activity, location (jurisdiction) and a hundred other reasons. The road for SRLs will be shortlived and the self confident person who thought that they could teach the system and their opponent a lesson with emotional charging and anger, will be served up on a silver platter on a train leaving the system yesterday.
    Emotions do not belong, and t.v. is not reality.
    I have taken three years of the school of hard knocks to get through the small claims court and the Superior Court Endeavour.
    I have learned enough law to help myself for the rest of my life, but if you do not leave the emotions on the side of the road, you will not get past the door. You will become a person with hatred for the system as well as others.
    It is not for the faint of heart or someone who does not want to or can’t finish something that they start.

    Good luck and start researching, play out scenarios with friends and try to stump the opponent, then rethink your position in reality and your next move. It might save yourself the loss of your mind and some friends along the way.

  2. Susan Anderson Behn

    Never assume Small Claims is easy.
    I was living in Victoria BC, and had a roofer make a claim in Small Claims in Vancouver. I arrived in Court in Vancouver, with my information to use to respond to the roofers, and was informed that Small Claims in Vancouver had instituted a “expedited”process which eliminated my opportunity to put forward my documents showing that the claim was unfounded, and that by appearing I had agreed to make payments on the Claim. I asked how to appeal this, and was told that not knowing that this was being held under this “expedited” Small Claims process was my fault, and that there was no place to appeal this decision of the Vancouver Small Claims Court.
    My lawyer agreed that this was unfair, but also agreed that there was no appeal.