Officialdom’s advice to lawyers: be nice to litigants in person

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By Jonathan Ames on

Legal profession kingpins advise qualified advocates that it’s not a good idea to swear at irritating members of public representing themselves


In the world of bureaucracy, the current triumvirate lording it over lawyers in England and Wales has set a new gold standard for waffle.

The organisations representing solicitors, barristers and legal executives yesterday released a 28-page set of guidelines advising hard-pressed lawyers on how to deal with the growing hordes of litigants in person that are cluttering the courts.

But any lawyers with enough time on their hands to plough through the advice are probably not spending that much time in court in the first place. So to assist busy advocates, Legal Cheek has boiled down the core elements.

To be fair, the crux of the guidelines from the Law Society, Bar Council and Chartered Institute of Legal Executives amounts to little more than common sense: explain issues clearly to litigants in person, and try to be civil to them.

“Avoid any technical language or legal jargon,” reads paragraph 21. Likewise, lawyers should “explain jargon where it cannot be avoided: a LiP who is already feeling at a disadvantage may be further intimidated and antagonised by the use of such language”.

Moreover, lawyers should “take extra care to avoid using inflammatory words or phrases that suggest or cause a dispute where there is none, or inflame a dispute, and avoid expressing any personal opinions on the LiP’s behaviour”.

In other words, avoid turning towards a litigant in person and smugly saying: “Oi Muppet — you call that cross-examination, do you … ?”

The guidelines also ominously warn lawyers that “correspondence and telephone calls from some LiPs may be emotive, repetitive, and potentially hostile”.

While 28 pages might seem slightly excessive to remind legally-qualified advocates that not behaving like pompous twats is probably the best course of action when dealing with distressed and disorientated members of the pubic, there might be a broader agenda afoot.

With legal aid eligibility squeezed to the point where even those kipping beneath Waterloo Bridge don’t qualify, lawyers will increasingly encounter litigants in person floundering around before judges.

Perhaps today’s manual will be tomorrow’s required reading on the advocacy elements of the Bar Professional Training and the Legal Practice courses.

Read the guidelines in full below:

Litigants in Person Guidelines for Lawyers – 1 June 2015