We have recently become the subject of a legal action by our former landlord. It gives one a whole different perspective on litigation when you are involved in it yourself. I don’t think I had really appreciated the kind of anxiety litigation produces. Obviously, intellectually, I knew that it must be terrible to be involved in litigation, but it’s quite different when you are involved in it yourself. It makes you understand anxious clients who call all the time to check up on their case. (Of course, I was always sympathetic, but now I will be more so). It also makes you understand the importance of communicating what is happening to your client. In this instance, I have been able to represent myself, but I know that my anxiety would increase massively if I had to trust someone else to look after my matter, as I’m a control freak.
Luckily, because I am legally trained, it has been easy for me to access various resources, and I have been able to collect the evidence we will need.
However, it must be nightmarish not to know where to turn. If the amount of money in question is “small” (say, $3000) it doesn’t seem worth your while to go see a solicitor, because you might end up spending a fair amount getting legal advice and not recover your money in the end anyway. People don’t seem to be aware of the variety of community legal services out there. For example, I recently heard a story of a man who completed some kind of online training program. At the end of the program, the people running the program told him that he had to pay an extra couple of thousand dollars to take the exam and qualify. This had not been mentioned at any previous time and, in fact, much had been made of a “money back guarantee” if you were not satisfied. So he tried to claim the money back guarantee, and is now faced with an action for debt. He could not afford to go to a solicitor to get legal advice. Someone happened to mention this story to me, and I let the man know straight away of a number of resources he could access.
I really, really hate the idea of people being ripped off by unscrupulous operators because they don’t know their legal rights and don’t have the knowledge or resources to seek good advice. I wonder if it would be possible to put a page in the phonebook with a whole set of community legal centres and government departments?
I have also thought for a long time that people need to be better educated about the basics of law, debt and finance. For example, if you don’t pay your mortgage, don’t just ignore all the threatening letters – the lender will take your house if you don’t do anything about it. But perhaps it’s just human nature. My experience is that people have an extraordinary capacity of people to close their eyes to the most awful personal dilemmas, and even when they are in Court being cross-examined, or when the Sheriff is knocking on their door, they still don’t quite believe it. I think litigation produces some very interesting psychological reactions (and I haven’t even mentioned the topic of self-represented litigants yet).