Unfamiliarity with the law and court processes can cost self-represented individuals dearly, Ottawa paralegal Amri Murray tells AdvocateDaily.com. Murray, principal of AJ Murray Legal Services, says even a solid case can be derailed by the inexperience of an individual acting on their own behalf in court.
“Misinterpretation of legislation and misreading of the case law are something I often see when people represent themselves , Murray says. , “They’re not equipped with the necessary legal skills, and as a result, they get the wrong idea about their cases.
When they focus on points that they mistakenly feel are favourable for them, it can affect how decision-makers see them, and may even overshadow the strengths of their cases , she adds.
And while procedural proficiency is never going to win a case, Murray says she’s frequently seen litigants tank in court as a result of missed deadlines and failure to follow the expected way of doing things.
Not everything is available online. Knowledge of court processes and procedures often comes simply from being involved in court, and previous experience with the system , she says.
Still, Murray says she can understand why some people are tempted to go it alone, given the renowned high cost of litigation and lawyers' fees. If you’re a middle-income person, you’re in a challenging position because you make too much to qualify for legal aid, but the cost associated with obtaining legal advice from a lawyer is still prohibitive , she says.
However, Murray says paralegals can help bridge the gap for someone who believes legal help is out of their financial reach.
In Ontario, I find that many people don’t even realize how many areas in which a paralegal can actually help, without incurring the really high costs associated with hiring a lawyer , she says. “Most paralegals will charge less than half of a lawyer’s legal fees.”
Murray operates a wide-ranging practice touching on what she calls “every day” legal areas including human rights complaints, landlord and tenant matters, small claims court matters and summary criminal offences.
In appropriate circumstances, she also charges clients on a flat-fee basis and is open to unbundled arrangements in which legal matters are broken down into their component parts so that self-represented litigants can get help from a trained professional for specific areas of their case.
When it comes to legal services, Murray says there’s very little relationship between the cost of advice and the quality of performance.
Lower cost does not mean lower quality representation. You’re saving money with a paralegal because our scope is more limited Murray explains.
What we are trained to do is to help people with every day legal issues to navigate the legal system.