Free legal clinic launches in Sydney to help self-represented litigants

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They say a person who represents themselves in court has a fool for a client. But a new clinic opening in Sydney hopes to help those litigants in civil cases become a little smarter about the court process by offering free legal advice.

Nova Scotia Chief Justice Michael MacDonald, co-chair of a provincial access-to-justice committee, said most people who represent themselves do so because they can't afford to retain a lawyer.

The clinic is "designed to fill the gap for litigants who really have no ability to have council assist them navigate the court process," he said.

While Nova Scotia Legal Aid helps those in criminal cases and family court has clinics to advise people in family cases, MacDonald said there was no help for litigants in the civil justice process. 

Such cases includes breach of contract, negligence, consumer issues, workers compensation claims and estates, he explained.

"Essentially anything that involved litigation that isn't family or criminal law," he said.

MacDonald said civil cases have been taking more court time than necessary because people representing themselves have no legal training and must be explained the legal process.

'We found that everybody wins'

The free legal clinic is modelled after a similar clinic that's been running in Halifax since 2015.

"The self-represented litigant wins by getting help and getting important support," MacDonald said. "The opposing counsel wins because things go more smoothly."  

In Cape Breton, nine private lawyers have volunteered to work in the clinic along with students from Cape Breton University who are interested pursuing a career in law. 

"It's a wonderful opportunity for students," said MacDonald. "They get to see a lawyer in action meeting with a client."

The free legal clinic will be available, by appointment, in the Sydney courthouse every Friday morning.