Jennifer Muller – Seeing the Justice System through a Self-Represented Litigant’s Eyes (#14)

It just seemed so wrong for me to be there on my own. ~ Jennifer Muller

Jennifer Muller (@SRLjmuller) is a school counsellor and former sessional instructor at the University of British Columbia. She has also been personally involved in disputes in the public justice system. For some of that time, she was represented by a lawyer. But for most of that time, she had to represent herself. 

In this episode, Jennifer guides us through the justice process from the perspective of someone forced to choose between going unrepresented or giving up. And she didn’t give up. Along the way, you’ll hear her describe her experiences in court, from the physical and mental impacts, to the moment she felt compelled to apologize for stepping into courtroom without a lawyer.

The severity of her experiences motivated Jennifer to contribute her time and insights into self-represented litigant and access to justice-related initiatives, including the National Self-Represented Litigants Project (NSRLP) and Access to Justice BC (A2JBC).

By now, anyone who works in or around the justice system will be aware of the issues facing self-represented litigants. Jennifer’s insights will offer you a deep dive and show the individual, human side of self-representation based on her first-hand experience. She’ll explain why it happened, how it felt and what she thinks we can do to help make law and justice work better so people don’t have to keep experiencing the challenges she went through.

Topics Covered

  1. Reasons for self-representation
  2. Experiences of a self-represented litigant
  3. Perceptions on fairness and equality when self-represented litigants are in disputes against represented parties
  4. The economics of litigation
  5. Proposed responses to the challenges involving self-represented litigants
  6. Tips for lawyers when an opponent party is self-represented
  7. Tips for judges when a party is self-represented
  8. Access to justice
  9. Reform of legal services

Listen to “14 Jennifer Muller – Seeing the Justice System through a Self-Represented Litigant’s Eyes” on Spreaker.

The Quiz for this episode is here

Pre-approved by the Law Society of BC for 1.6 hours of CPD credits.

Are you a member of a law society outside BC? Try here.

Show Notes

5:01 How Jennifer describes her work

8:11 How she defines self-represented litigants

9:05 Jennifer’s experience as a SRL

23:00 What Jennifer had expected or thought about court before becoming a SRL

26:30 Apologizing for being an SRL, and feeling like you don’t belong in court without a lawyer

27:25 Reflections on who the justice system belongs to

28:20 Jennifer’s experiences with court, and feeling heard

28:45 The connection between understanding the process and feeling heard – regardless of outcome

31:30 Feeling like the playing field is unequal when an SRL’s opponent party has a lawyer

36:32 Resolving family matters in adversarial court processes

38:30 Affordability of legal services for transactional law, or solicitor’s matters, vs litigation

40:30 The economics of family litigation and reasons why people might choose to do nothing

41:45 Hypothetical rules for addressing litigation where one person can’t afford a lawyer

43:03 Thoughts on addressing the problem through government funding for legal aid

46:45 Thoughts on whether we could or should keep trying to address problems facing SRLs

48:12 What Jeniffer would say to herself if she could send an email back in time

48:45 Advice she would give to a SRL just beginning their justice dispute

51:55 Finding a lawyer willing to provide services other than just full representation

56:20 Jennifer’s advocacy work for SRLs

59:30 Jennifer’s work on the NSRLP advisory board work

1:00:00 Jennifer’s work on A2JBC 

1:01:00 Things Jennifer wants justice people to know about SRLs

1:06:20 Changing some of the negative perceptions lawyers and judges have about SRLs

1:07:15 Economics, consumer choice, lawyers, and unavailability of affordable, alternative forms of service

1:15:55 Advice for lawyers up against an opponent party who is self-represented

1:17:22 Advice for judges adjudicating cases with SRLs

1:18:44 Thoughts on why the public isn’t more engaged in the issue of self-representation

1:20:46 Feeling of shame or embarrassment for SRLs

1:22:14 Thoughts on legal education and SRLs

1:24:00 Family justice and adversarial approaches to justice

1:26:45 How Jennifer defines success

1:27:05 Toughest choice or sacrifice to get where she is today

1:31:20 Doing a week’s worth of work in 3 hours

1:31:52 How Jennifer looks after herself

1:32:30 Best resources for learning more about self-represented litigants 

1:33:30 Representing Yourself Canada

1:34:00 Access to Justice BC

1:35:00 Before my work in the law is done, I want to…

1:36:00 Adverse Childhood Experiences

1:36:55 Books on social impact by Al Etmanski

1:37:15 CBC Radio Podcasts

1:38:11 Jennifer’s calls to action

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