Watching self-representing litigants fail to access justice has prompted one Dunedin lawyer to publish a series of self-help guides in the form of downloadable e-books.
“I have seen people represent themselves who could have done a lot better if they just had access to some affordable information to help them,” Ben Nevell said.
His e-books outline to prospective self-representing litigants in the family and employment courts everything from pre-trial settlements, to strategising a case, to courtroom etiquette.
Mr Nevell was at pains to point out that it is much better to get a lawyer if at all possible, but knows that more and more people find themselves ineligible for legal aid and still unable to afford to pay a lawyer privately.
Asked if he was worried about a backlash from the legal profession, Mr Nevell said he was not concerned.
“I do reiterate that it is always best to get proper legal advice if you can, but if they can’t get legal aid and they can’t afford to pay a lawyer, do we leave them without any assistance at all?
“It is possible some people who could afford a lawyer might try to do it themselves with the help of these e-books, but I don’t think there would be many people in that category. I do think these e-books could help people wishing to enter into a limited retainer with their lawyer.”
Mr Nevell has been in discussions with Community Law Centres with a view to them recommending the books to clients, and he would give a donation to law centres for every purchase.
The centres gave a mixed verdict on the proposal.
“Some were very positive, others felt it did not fit with the ethos of the law centre to promote a commercial product to clients. Many believed their clients did not have the money to purchase the books.”
The books range from $37 for the pre-court guides to $77 for the full guide on taking the case to a defended hearing.
“From a practical point of view, with all the downsides that self-representation has, people will still do it because they have no choice, and I am confident that these books can help people, and by helping the people they will also help address the ongoing issue of access to justice.”
The e-books (available at www.legalebooks.nz) are yet to catch on with the general public – there have been no sales to date.
But Mr Nevell is optimistic that it is just a matter of time and marketing.
“I have total confidence in the value of these books to self-representing litigants.”