Be extra fair if employee sues without lawyer

Expect a slower process

The employee who acts for himself in a lawsuit may have a fool for a client, but he can drive his ex-employer crazy.

Lawsuits are expensive, so it is not unusual these days to find litigants attempting self-help in the courts.

Theodore O. Rogers Jr., head of the labour and employment law group at a large New York law firm, recently told the National Law Journal that “it is easier to litigate against a good lawyer than a pro se [unrepresented] plaintiff or bad lawyer.”

And 40 per cent of “pro se” cases in the Manhattan federal district court are employment claims.

The problem, of course, is that unrepresented employees are untrained in the ways of the law courts, and judges usually have to proceed much more slowly and cautiously to make sure they get a fair hearing. Their bumbles and stumbles can end up being inadvertently effective.

One lawyer told the trade paper that he will proceed very aggressively against such plaintiffs if he knows the court will tolerate it. Most others, however, counsel that it is a better to be carefully fair to unrepresented litigants.

Don’t give them another reason to be bitter, one lawyer advised.

At the same time, the employer’s lawyer must make sure that all of this fairness is carefully documented on the court record, so it stands up in further proceedings such as appeals.

One lawyer said he even tapes conversations with such plaintiffs so that they can’t twist his words later.

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