Dealing with lawyers on the other side of litigation

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A common concern of self-represented parties in civil cases is how to deal with lawyers representing the other party. This factsheet sets out some tips and suggestions for dealing with a represented party.

  1. If the other party is represented by a lawyer, deal with the lawyer rather than the other party. If the other party contacts you personally, you should always speak to the other party's lawyer to tell them that their client has contacted you directly.
  2. Bear in mind that the lawyer is only representing the other party in your case. As much as possible, you should try and separate your feelings about the other party from your dealings with the lawyer.
  3. The other lawyer cannot give you legal advice as they are not acting for you. They may sometimes assist you with a procedural step, in the interests of progressing their client's case, or they might during a negotiation tell you why they think your case is weak, but they are not able to give you legal advice.
  4. Keep your phone conversations and letters to the lawyer neutral and on point. Do not get into arguments or accuse the lawyer of misconduct. It doesn't help your case and it may weaken your credibility before the judge.
  5. Lawyers take accusations of improper conduct very seriously and you need very clear evidence that establishes that the lawyer has acted improperly. Acting in their client's (and against your) interests, is not enough to establish misconduct.
  6. A good rule of thumb is that you should not write anything to the other side that you would not be comfortable with the judge reading. Even if you are writing on a "without prejudice" basis, this can become relevant to the judge's decision about costs.
  7. Consider what battles you are going to fight. Litigation can be a long and drawn out process. You don't need to take issue with everything that the lawyers for the other party do (or don't do). Taking this approach to litigation can be counterproductive. For example:
    Lisa is being sued by her former lawyers for payment of her bill. Lisa has brought a counterclaim arguing her lawyers were negligent. On 1 February, the Supreme Court makes orders requiring Lisa to file an Amended Defence and Counterclaim by 1 March, and then the lawyers to file their Amended Reply and Answer by 15 March. On 13 March, the lawyers write to Lisa informing her that they intend to file their Amended Reply and Answer on 21 March. Lisa refuses to agree to the extension. On 16 March Lisa files a form 9 Application seeking Judgment against the lawyers. This is heard on 23 March. The Judge dismisses Lisa's application because she has not used the proper procedure for dealing with any delay by the Plaintiffs, and that she is not entitled to judgment. Lisa is ordered to pay the lawyers' costs (including barrister's fees) which come to $9,000. This leads to Lisa being made bankrupt, and she is not able to continue her claim for negligence.
  8. If you feel that the conduct of the other parties' lawyers has been improper, you can make a complaint to the Legal Services Commission (LSC) about that conduct. The LSC is the Queensland Government body established to regulate and supervise the conduct of lawyers in Queensland.
  9. The Queensland Law Society has produced a guide for solicitors in Queensland on dealing with self represented litigants. You can get a copy of that guide here.

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