Being a party to a legal action

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).

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Being a party to a legal action

  1. Anonymous

    I’m a lawyer, and self-represented litigant. I didn’t want to be – but the service of lawyers out there is terrible!

    I was unfortunate enough to experience conduct at my former law firm which contravenes the Equal Opportunity Act, amongst other things. I contacted solicitors to represent me, but they were terrible – slow to respond to my requests, provided incorrect advice, allowed my employment suit to become statute barred, and I’m sure used to pretend they weren’t there when I called.

    I used to be a Plaintiff lawyer, but I have grown to despise them – because despite their outwardly noble sentiments and extreme self-righteousness, on an individual basis they often don’t seem to actually make an effort to help people at all!! And is it just me, or are all Plaintiff law firms permeated with a culture of sleaze, harrassment and an over-work/extreme-under-pay attitude? Irony does not even cover it!

    I also feel sorry for anyone who has had to run the gauntlet of the Equal Opp Commission; I had the most stupid, selfish, nasty b**ch of a claims officer, I’ve had to refer the matter to VCAT. I’m now self-represented, and still in the middle of my case (hence my anonymity), and trying my hardest to keep perspective on the situation. It certainly makes me feel badly for any non-legals who find themselves drawn into the circus.

  2. Legal Eagle

    As I mentioned in this post, it’s so hard to get up the courage to go out there and seek legal advice in the first place. So, if there’s one thing I really, really hate, it’s lawyers who provide bad service! I am very sorry that you experienced this.

    I have also noticed the irony that often lawyers treat their employees terribly, while going around self-righteously telling other people how to run their lives. I have heard some pretty bad things about some of the plaintiff law firms – it goes back to my long-held view that one should not assume that one is morally right, because that is when the worst wrongs are committed as you can’t even contemplate that you might be doing a bad thing.

    And as for petty civil servants masquerading as quasi-legal decision-makers… Don’t even start me! We just had a bad experience at VCAT in our action against our landlord – why is it that women seem to treat other women so badly sometimes? The (female) VCAT member we got openly sneered at me, seeming to despise me for being young, legally-trained and female. I presume the same is true for your EOC claims officer. However, I hear that the equal opportunity arm of VCAT has better Members, and I wish you all the very best of luck in your claim.

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