The Risks of Self-Representation in Court



Doesn’t Make You a Master Chef


Doesn’t Make You a Mechanic


Doesn’t Make You a Lawyer or a Paralegal

Businessman At Desk Series

Self-representation in court can be risky.  In my eighteen years of practicing as a Small Claims Court paralegal I have yet to see a self-represented litigant who has not made a mistake during the course of the their lawsuit.  Too often the mistakes are significant and have serious consequences.  Before you proceed on your own read on.





[ 1 ]  Litigation is a Very Knowledge Intensive Enterprise.  

There are a total of 85 provincial and 15 federal statutes we must have a working knowledge of in order to effectively represent our clients in the Ontario Small Claims Court.  On top of this there are at least 50 legal principles, several dozen Latin maxims, about a dozen authoritative texts, and reams of case law.  And this is before we even get to court where we must be experts with the Small Claims Court’s 20 written rules and have a strong grasp of the uncodified yet established rules that govern trial advocacy.

[ 2 ]  Knowledge is not Effective Until Repeatedly Applied.

It takes years to put knowledge into effective practice.  It is generally said it takes 10,000 hours (five years) to become an expert in any given profession such as a paralegal or a lawyer.

[ 3 ]  It’s More than Just Telling a Story and Filling Out a Form.

Many people think that if they commit their narrative to paper everything else will come together – not so.  As described there is far more to litigation than simply completing a form correctly.  Many self-represented litigants become lulled into a false sense of security after they successfully complete the court’s forms while otherwise remaining ignorant of rules, laws and procedures.

[ 4 ]  The Court is Not There to Give You Legal Advice.

Court staff can only provide limited assistance with court forms and procedures.  Judge’s are supposed to remain impartial and can only offer very limited assistance in a courtroom lest they be accused of effectively acting for one of the litigants.  You are on your own.

[ 5 ]  Litigation Requires Objective Analysis.

There is an old saying “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”  I believe this expression is borne out of most people’s inability think objectively when they have been wronged.  This lack of unemotional, objective thinking, and ability to see the other side of a story, causes a serious handicap when it comes to assessing and interpreting all that is happening in a legal proceeding.  A legal professional is able to provide the necessary objective and analytical thinking needed.


If you don’t pay for advice you will end up paying for mistakes.


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