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Indicators of an economy still struggling: more of us in court, less of us with legal representation. Cases that logically seem linked to tough economic times, foreclosures, domestic relations issues, and debt actions have increased, but according to a new survey, judges think the number of people coming before them with legal representation has decreased.
According to a survey of judges for the American Bar Association Coalition for Justice, the "View From The Bench" is not an encouraging one right now. Seventy-eight percent of the more than 1,000 state trial judges surveyed say that not only have their own case loads increased, but the lack of representation has a negative impact on the functioning of the court. Ninety percent of judges stated that court procedures are slowed when parties are not represented by attorneys.
A lack of a lawyer doesn't just have a negative effect on how the court system functions overall; it has a marked effect on the outcome of an individual's case. The judges responding to the survey said the lack of an attorney had a negative impact not just where you might expect, such as in procedural errors (89 percent), failure to properly object to evidence (81 percent), ineffective argument (77 percent) and ineffective witness examination (85 percent), but in the basic necessity to get the information a judge needs in front of him or her. Ninety-four percent of judges said a failure to present necessary evidence was a negative impact of individuals not being represented in the courtroom.
As you might expect, the have and have-not representation gap is growing wider as well. Nearly half of the judges responding believe that there is a middle-class gap with respect to access to justice, stating that the number of people who are not represented but who do not qualify for aid has increased.
If you are bringing a court case or have had one filed against you, stop and do some research before going it alone. Websites like FindLaw can give you good starting information about some issues you might face in court or help you find a lawyer if you decide you do need one. The websites of your state bar association, for instance the State Bar of California, or legal aid organizations may be able to help you find low cost or pro bono legal help. Spending a bit of extra time and even extra money may save you much, much more of both in the end.