Over the past few months I've served as an accommodation for a court case for an individual with LD and ADHD. This experience has opened my eyes to the justice system and made me want to scream from the rooftops: "Don't do this alone!...ever!" Today, I'm capturing some tips in this blog post, in the hopes that I can save others from the sheer pain of this process.
If you can afford a lawyer at $300/ hour (or so) or if you qualify for legal aid, then you may not need all these tips. However, if you fall into the "in-between" category, as most of the population does, you should find them useful.
Okay - this is never going to be fun, but here are a few tips to survive the process:
1. Coping with gobs of jargony paperwork...Before you even enter the courthouse, you will be expected to respond to loads of overwhelming and confusing paperwork. The volume of information needed will likely cause you to seize. From this moment on, have a coach - or a very paper savvy and organized friend - beside you to help you to systematize and prioritize what is needed. There is a lot of redundancy and repetition so work together to keep it under control. Be sure to declare on this paperwork: "As I have a learning disability, I will be exercising my right to an accommodation in the courtroom. The person assisting me will be [name and qualifications]."
2. Filing, filing and more filing...Once you get your paperwork done, you will likely need to file it at the courthouse. You may also need to send it to the other person involved in the court case. Be aware that no matter how hard you have worked, there will likely be something missing. Take someone with you to the courthouse and declare that you have a learning disability. Have the court official review all your paperwork and walk you through anything that is missing. if possible, complete the rest of the submission with their guidance. Take items related to the case (accident report/ Notice of Assessment/ etc.) with you so you don't end up making several trips back and forth.
3. Arriving at the courthouse the day of...On the day of the settlement conference/ court case, arrive at least 45 minutes early. Bring the person serving as your accommodation with you. Let the information desk know that you are there and see if you can get the assistance of Duty Council. These lawyers are provided free of charge and are invaluable in working on your behalf to speed along the process and towards a settlement. Even if you don't qualify for legal aid, it's not to say that you won't get the assistance of Duty Council. Whether you do or don't, keep the individual serving as your accommodation with you at all times because this is when everything goes into full gear and you will need their help with the flurry of paperwork, dates, numbers and figures being thrown around.
4. Once in the courtroom...Once the court is in session, declare to the judge that you have a learning disability and explain that this person will be serving as your accommodation and that you did provide notice to the court in writing before hand, in case the judge missed it. Request that they be able to sit beside you to help you with notes and paperwork. Be aware that your accommodation will be instructed not to speak. This is okay. They can write down information and prompt you with written instructions when the pace picks up, the papers start flying around and you get locked up.
5. During the court case...Keep your head high and stay involved in the process. Don't look demoralized and stare at your feet. If you need the pace slowed down, say so. If your are finding dates confusing then ask for clarification (i.e. 'last summer' needs to be 'summer of 2013'). With the assistance of your accommodation, take control. Ask for what you need and don't feel belittled or ashamed. Would anyone question the need for a ramp if you were in a wheelchair? Adopt the same attitude.
6. Following the proceedings...Again, take advantage of Duty Council and/ or sit with your accommodation and review what has been said. This may be the time when you are able to settle the matter. Be sure you absolutely know what is being presented. Don't sign anything until both you and your accommodation have read it over. Ask for further clarification if needed. Then ask again.
During the entire process the most important thing that you can do is......breathe.
Whenever you feel overwhelmed, take a break, slow things down and ask for clarification.
Remember -- you're not asking for a favour - these things are your rights, your human rights, so be sure to exercise them.
Judy Mouland loves to challenge the status quo and chip away at the word ‘normal.’ Over the years, she has learned to embrace and use her own quirky brain to succeed and is passionate about the power of self-awareness. She became a CTI (Coaches Training Institute) Life Coach for people with ADHD, LD, OCD (and their favorite cousins; anxiety and depression) after serving for 20+ years in local, national and international settings, most recently as the C.E.O. of the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada.She works to empower her clients to live life on their own terms - no excuses – and to uncover their brilliance so they can shine. She is a member of the International Coaches Federation and freely admits that most everything she knows she has learned from her three exceptional children, who never let her brain become idle. Her empowering blog posts can be found at: www.judymouland.com/blog