‘Fat cat’ lawyer image creating more LiPs, says Citizens Advice

Topics: Family and children,Legal aid and access to justice,Courts business

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Many litigants in person underestimate the value of having a lawyer, with media stories of ‘fat cat’ lawyers encouraging more people to take matters into their own hands, research from charity Citizens Advice has revealed.

The report on unrepresented litigants in family courts also highlighted the negative experiences faced by those who pursue cases without legal representation.

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According to the report, the stress, responsibility and loneliness of going to court without representation can mean ‘litigants in person achieve worse outcomes compared with their represented counterparts’.

It also showed 90% of people who had been LiPS found the experience negatively affected their health, relationships, work or finances. Some lost their jobs due to the pressure, while others got into debt due to court issues, including paying for photocopying and travelling to and from court.

Meanwhile, seven in 10 reported they might ‘think twice’ about taking a case to court themselves if they could not afford a lawyer.

The charity said the rise in litigants in person was mainly due to clients being unable to afford a lawyer due to reduced funding for those going to the family court following the implementation of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) in 2013. 

But it also noted that some people chose to be unrepresented as they either mistrusted lawyers or were not aware of the value lawyers could bring to their case. The charity said unclear information about the services lawyers provide ‘makes it difficult for people to judge the quality of a professional or compare services’. 

The report said consumers are not being guided to the increasingly widespread unbundling services lawyers now offer.

It said that without clear information, unrealistic expectations cause people to feel frustrated with the service they receive. This, combined with a lack of awareness of consumer protections, means one poor experience can ‘put someone off the whole sector’.

The charity said it was only after people had been through the process of going to the family court that they realised the value of having a lawyer, with 70% saying that instructing a professional would have benefited their court experience.

Gillian Guy (pictured), chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: ‘For people representing themselves in the family courts, whether in a divorce case or to keep the legal right to see their children, the workload to prepare can be unmanageable. In extreme cases people are quitting their job so they have the time to do research before going to court.

‘The stress of making your case against qualified barristers and navigating complex court processes without the right guidance can make existing mental and physical health problems worse.’

‘If people representing themselves in court knew where they could get reliable information online or face-to-face this could help cut down the time they need to prepare.’

Readers' comments (25)

  • Well...they would say that, wouldn't they.

    But if you can find any such well fed cat, outside the major cities, please let me know won't you...

    The last paragraph sums up the stupidity of the CAB's outlook. Such 'reliable...face to face' advice was located in provincial legal aid solicitors offices right round the country and is reliable and professional because of the years of study and experience needed to be able to provide such reliability and that, my friend, has to be paid for.

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  • No surprises in this article! You get what you pay for so if you pay nothing - you get nothing.

    LiPs should surely stop for a moment and realise that there is a reason why we train for 6 or 7 years to do this job after (hopefully) having achieved good grades at school. Its obvious that a taxi driver or an IT consultant or a builder etc, are just not going to triumph against a barrister in a courtroom, just as a barrister won't do too well at building a computer network or an extension on their house.

    I have to ask therefore, is this really newsworthy?

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  • Can I suggest that solicitors should be looking beyond the headline at the positive aspects of this survey rather than being disparaging about it?

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  • The fact that media reports of fat cat lawyers is discouraging people from using solicitors is like saying that fire is hot. Of course it is! The media and the insurance industry are very aware of this, as are politicians I'm sure. They use it to their advantage and their ability to do so far outweighs our ability to fight back. Most people who use solicitors become aware of their value and would do so again, but if they've never been involved in the court process and are faced with scare stories of people losing their homes to pay the 'fat cat lawyers' no doubt being a LiP is attractive. It is only afterwards that they may reflect that better advice may have brought about a better outcome, and by that time it is probably too late. Therefore a bitter taste is left by the whole court process and they may think again before entering the court room a second time.

    We, as a profession, do not seem to know how to use the media. We are generally understated individually in 'putting ourselves forward' and our representatives, while well meaning no doubt, tend to be seen as pompous and upper-class, speaking with a cut-glass accent and therefore in the eyes of the public being lumped in with the 'haves' as opposed to the 'have nots'. So, anything our representatives may say is taken as being part of the conspiracy to do reasonable, ordinary people out of their hard earned cash.

    It is sad that the general public have that perception of us. We all know that we are fighting ourselves against the system.

    Do I have an answer, do I know how to fix that false perception? No, sadly I do not. But perhaps together as a profession we can work to change it.

    Answers on a postcard...

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  • I have very little sympathy with anyone now complaining. Also blame the press.

    Everyone has been warned over many years and wilfully believed that we were feathering our own nests when we explained that good advice cannot be provided below a cerain price.

    Now the chickens re coming home to roost and I am feeling pretty hard hearted.

    I take no pleasure in saying "we told you so"

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  • Frankly, 'Anonymous' is the very last solicitor I would want representing me. He takes too much for granted and assumes that anyone without a law degree is dimmer than he/she is and won't win a case. How wrong. I don't have a law degree (although I do know my way around the legal system better than most) and I have always done much better researching my own cases and representing myself. The problem with qualified legal services is that all the work they cover is done against the clock and there is very little time, for a low affordable fee, to sift through the case properly. They just skirt over the issues, drum up Counsel's opinion and that is about it. I, on the other hand, went through everything with a tooth comb and left no stone unturned. So, I'm afraid you mistate the facts, Mr Anonymous.

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  • Bel you are the exception rather than the rule.The vast majority of LIPs that I have come across have been sadly clueless and have relied heavily on the judge to help them.Even those who have clearly done a lot of research fail to grasp the legal concepts that can be involved.It does not mean these persons are not intellegent enough,I have also come across numerous expert witnesses who have failed to grasp certain basic legal concepts despite having prepared many reports.Sadly the law is often complex even in small value matters.

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  • The media are largely, if not entirely, to blame. It is almost invariable practice for journos to unthinkingly add those trite words "only the lawyers will get rich" to any report about legal cases.

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  • The key point I take from this report (and article) is;

    '...the stress, responsibility and loneliness of going to court without representation can mean ‘litigants in person achieve worse outcomes compared with their represented counterparts’.

    The above importantly doesn't mention one further critical factor.

    I'm not your 'Mr Anonymous' Bel but you contribute to the lie that solicitors don't add value where that really isn't the case. A law degree isn't important but knowledge and experience really is. You can and will only get so far with google however commercially savvy and intelligent you are. How do you value your time? You're quick to criticise solicitors but the reality clearly must be that you don't value your own time at all. How many hours must you have spent toiling to get up to speed on process and law? Clearly many hours. Do you service your own car too?

    If you're happy to work for nothing then fair enough but you shouldn't be critical of others who won't or can't afford to do so. What luxury. Us mere mortals took years to qualify and our experience adds value to our clients by securing better outcomes. Incidentally that's precisely the conclusion of this report and therefore back to the real issue here- in reality it shouldn't be surprising that unrepresented LIPS achieve worse outcomes because in simple terms they don't know what they're doing.

    The conclusion is that all LIPS would be better off trying to obtain legal advice from qualified professionals and I'm happy to endorse that.

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  • Sometimes it is impossible to afford a solicitor or legal representation, I do not represent myself for fun I have no choice!
    I have been called a 'sophisticated litigant-in-person', whatever that means. But the stress, the pressure and demands when faced with a team of 12 strong professionally trained people against just me have seriously affected my heart and my overall health. I cannot leave, I cannot stop or I lose everything including my home and possessions.

    The strain of trying to understand, research and respond are incredible, add to that the underhand tactics and despicable actions that these people will go to and it is a wonder I am still coping at all.

    So articles like this make me wonder, who did they actually talk to? Not me that's for sure!

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