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LiPs – tips for dealing

Litigants in person (LiPs) are on the increase due in part to legal aid cuts and an increase in the small claims limit. Maintaining the balance of treating LiPs fairly, while also acting in the best interests of the client can be difficult. An article provides pointers to assist when dealing with LiPs in disputes or court proceedings.
 
Duties
A lawyer owes a duty to their client and the court and the administration of justice. They must not take unfair advantage of third parties, including LiPs. However, using law and legal procedure effectively because a lawyer has the knowledge and skills is not taking unfair advantage. There is no obligation to assist an LiP to run their case or to take action on their behalf.
 
Tips and suggestions
  • Explain but don’t advise. Explain what the LiP needs to do next, refer them to the CPR and try to ensure they understand next steps. Suggesting that they take legal advice may be appropriate. A lawyer should not advise the LiP what they should cover in their witness evidence nor provide them with a template witness statement to use.
  • Ensure communications are professional, co-operative and courteous. Consider sending the Law Society’s ‘Notes for litigants in person’ to the LiP. Avoid inflammatory language and legal jargon. There is no obligation to respond to an LiP immediately (although acknowledgement would be courteous).
  • Do not assume that the LiP will take the usual steps in the court process that a represented party would take. Be prepared to take responsibility for hearing bundles and take conduct of drawing up and sealing orders, even if this would not happen if the LiP was represented.
  • Serve documents correctly and on time and take a note of any conversations with the LiP to ensure that there is a record.
  • Anticipate requests for adjournments or applications for extensions of time.
  • A lawyer is likely to take more time when dealing with an LiP, so take this into account at the outset in relation to costs.
  • If in doubt, consider the Law Society’s publication ‘Litigants in person: new guidelines for lawyers’. 
Source: [2019] 180 Personal Injury Law Journal 20.
 

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