(First published on Dialogic Mediation Services)
This quotation is taken from a recent post on Dr. Julie Macfarlane's blog on the National Self-Represented Litigants Project that takes its mandate from the National Self-Represented Litigants (SRL’s) Research Study, carried out, 2011-2013.
There has been wide-spread growth of SRLs in Ontario, seemingly because many in our society simply cannot afford lawyers but also earn too much to be eligible for legal aid.
The thrust of her post is that self-represented litigants (SRLs) want help from lawyers in order to be effective self-advocates. In other words, they want coaching from lawyers so they, the SRLs, can better represent themselves in the justice system. While providing such a service may seem counter-intuitive to lawyers, Dr. Macfarlane argues it is in their own interest, not to mention the judiciary's as well.
From the meekest to the most assertive, SRLs in my study told me over and over that they do not want to be simply told what to do by an advisor who seemed to have their own agenda and appeared uninterested in their concerns, expectations and needs. They did not want to have “expert advice” rammed down their throats before they felt that they have really been listened to and their point of view acknowledged and taken seriously.
In my view, this observation about SRL aversion to expert advice also validates the promise of mediation. For mediation to be a real alternative to other dispute resolution processes, such as litigation, self-determination must be paramount, and not just with regard to substantive disputes but also with respect to the process itself. All too often in family mediation, the community of practitioners assumes that to mediate separation, divorce, parenting agreements, financial issues, the mediator must have substantive qualifications in those areas by having trained as a lawyer or a therapist. When mediators are informed or influenced by training and mind sets of disciplines other than conflict resolution or intervention, it is invariably at the cost of party self-determination.