One individual’s experience, related below, confirms two of my favourite rules in law: People get what they pay for, and clients hire lawyers to get better results than they could get for themselves.
An individual I met with last year decided she would attempt to argue her case on her own. Naturally, this was against my advice since, as I explained, her case was not simple and her former employer did not appear willing to settle. Further, most judges strongly discourage self-represented litigants from conducting their own trials, another point I clearly made known.
She was not easily convinced. As her claim fell within the jurisdiction of the small claims court, she relied on a free brochure provided by the government, which explains that lawyers are not mandatory for small claims court claims. Since the majority of small claims matters relate to simple claims, a lawyer’s involvement is often unnecessary. However, in workplace law cases, where questions of fact and law are disputed, seldom can an unrepresented individual adequately conduct a trial, a fact overlooked by the government’s brochure.
Another reason she was dissuaded from retaining a lawyer was her fear of the costs. In her view, if she could obtain close to the same result that I could, then why pay for my time if she could save her money by fighting the case on her own. However, this only made sense if she won her case – a point she completely ignored when rejecting my offer to take on her matter.
Recently, I received a frantic call from her on the verge of her trial hoping that I would now take her case. No surprise there. Her employer was not prepared to settle, as I had predicted, and a pre-trial judge had ordered her to retain a lawyer, since he felt that she was incapable of arguing her own case. What’s worse is that she was ordered to pay her employer’s legal costs for the preliminary hearing, a result usually limited to frivolous claims.
The value lawyers’ supply to their clients is challenged as often as the advice they provide. Sometimes it is for a good reason. Often it is not. Had this individual heeded my advice, she could have been cashing settlement cheques by now rather than having to pay legal costs to her ex-employer.
Daniel A. Lublin is an employment lawyer with Whitten & Lublin LLP. Dan@toronto-employmentlawyer.com.