Minnesota Lawyer recently ran an interview with Second District Court Judge Kathleen Gearin in which she lamented the rise in pro se litigants, especially in criminal and complex civil cases. “You’re seeing things like pro se medical-malpractice suits, and they’re really time-consuming,” she said. “The litigants become frustrated because they don’t know the law, and they end up making a lot of procedural mistakes.”
That’s only one reason judges and lawyers sometimes take a dim view of so-called do-it-yourself defendants. As was pointed out in yesterday’s Star Tribune, lawyers don’t appreciate having work taken from them.
But the surge in pro se litigants – and of entities such as Minnesota’s and Hennepin County’s legal self-help services – seems to reflect market pressures as much as anything. The poor, recent immigrants, cash-strapped divorcees and others without the means to hire an attorney are finding that with some initiative and some expert advice, they can more easily have their day in court. Without these avenues, these often-disenfranchised folks would only be more so.
Gearin certainly has a point: Some cases are simply too complicated for the average citizen to take on alone. But in some areas including family law, maybe it’s time to remove the sense of voodoo that many people have about the practice of law and give them a chance to speak for themselves.