LawAccess NSW > Representing Yourself


Frequently asked questions

Nego​​ti​​ation​​ - FAQs

1. I have a dispute about money and want to ne​​gotiate with the other party. How can I do this?

There are a number of ways you can negotiate. You could try negotiating with the other party by:

  • meeting them face to face
  • talking on the telephone
  • writing a letter, email or text.

For more information, see Ways to negotiate.

2. Someone started a court case against me but now t​​​hey want to negotiate about the matter. Can we still negotiate?

Yes, you can negotiate at any time. You can negotiate before a court case has started, after a court case has started and even when you are at court.

3. My neighbour w​​ants to negotiate about a fencing issue. What can I do to prepare?

Good preparation will help you negotiate. You should:

  • gather any documents or information you have about the problem
  • understand your legal rights
  • think about what outcome you want
  • be prepared to listen to what the other party wants or needs
  • consider ways to solve the problem
  • not be afraid to make an offer.

For more information, see Preparing to negotiate.

4. I was able to re​solve my legal issue after negotiating with the other party. What should I do now?

It is a good idea to put the terms of your agreement in writing, and both sign the agreement.

If you and the other party resolved the issue before starting a court case, then the agreement can be in the form of a 'Deed of Release'. A Deed of Release is a formal document which sets out the terms of your agreement.

If a case has already been started in a court or tribunal, then you will need to stop the case. You may be able to do this by writing and filing 'Terms of Settlement' and/or 'Consent Orders'.  You may also need to file a Notice of Discontinuance.

For more information, see Coming to an agreement.

Mediation - FA​Qs ​

1. What is med​​iation?

Mediation is an informal way of solving a problem. It involves the parties in a dispute coming together to discuss the issue with the help of a neutral third party called the 'mediator'.

A mediator will help the parties talk to each other and come up with solutions. A mediator will not take sides.

For more information, see What is mediation?

2. My neighbou​r has asked me to attend mediation. Should I go?

There are many benefits of trying mediation to solve a problem. For example:

  • The parties involved can decide the end result.
  • The result at mediation may be more flexible than the result you may achieve through court. Your agreement at mediation can cover a wider range of issues and solutions.
  • Mediation is usually quicker and cheaper than going to a court or tribunal.
  • Mediation gives everyone a chance to understand each other's point of view.
  • What happens at mediation is usually confidential.

If you feel intimidated or threatened by your neighbour, mediation may not be a good option for you.

For more information, see Why try mediation?

3. Is mediation co​​mpulsory?

Mediation is usually voluntary. However, sometimes a court might order you and the other party to attend mediation, for example in fencing matters, family law disputes or Apprehended Personal Violence Order (APVO) applications.

In certain situations it is compulsory to try mediation before starting a case, for example family law parenting matters.

For more information, see Why try mediation?

4. Do I have to pay fo​r mediation?

Community Justice Centres (CJCs) offer free mediation services. For more information, go to the Community Justice Centres website.

Private mediators will charge a fee.

For more information, see How to arrange mediation.

5. How can I prepare​ for mediation?

Good preparation will help you mediate. You should:

  • learn about the mediation process
  • think about the issues
  • work out what you want
  • understand your legal rights
  • think about the options for ending the dispute
  • understand your emotions
  • plan how to communicate
  • think about whether you need to take a support person with you
  • organise an interpreter (if you need one)
  • gather documents and information.

For more information, see Preparing for mediation.

6. Is an agreement rea​​​ched at mediation enforceable at court?

An agreement reached at mediation will not be enforceable at court unless it was made in writing and signed by all the parties in the dispute.

If you and the other party signed an agreement following the mediation, it may be legally binding and the other party may take steps to enforce the agreement at court. You should get legal advice.

For more information, see What happens at mediation?

Dealing with your law​yer - FAQs ​

1. What is the difference​​ between a solicitor and a barrister?

Solicitors and barristers are both lawyers. The difference between them is a bit like the difference between a GP and a specialist doctor. A person who needs legal advice or representation will usually go to a solicitor. If the case is complex, or will be heard in a higher court, the solicitor may get specialised advice from a barrister, or engage the barrister to present the case to the court.

For more information, see What is a lawyer?

2. Do I have to get a​​ lawyer?

No, you can always represent yourself in courts and tribunals.

3. The lawyer I wa​​​​nted to see said he can't represent me because there is a conflict of interest. What does this mean?

All lawyers have a duty to avoid a conflict of interest.

A conflict of interest may arise because:

  • the lawyer is already acting for the other party in your dispute and cannot represent both of you.
  • the other party in your dispute has received advice from the same lawyer previously. The advice could be relating to the same dispute or a matter relevant to your dispute.
  • your interests and the lawyer's own interests clash.  

For more information, see The role of a lawyer.

4. I am meeting my law​​yer for the first time next week. What can I do to prepare?

To help you get the most out of your meeting with your lawyer, you should be well prepared. You should:

  • do some research
  • organise an interpreter (if you need one)
  • gather and organise your documents
  • prepare a chronology, and
  • check the costs.

For more information, see Preparing to meet your lawyer.

5. Does my lawyer ha​​ve to give me a costs agreement?

A costs agreement is a written agreement about costs. A lawyer does not have to give you a costs agreement but if your case is going to cost more than $750.00, your lawyer must 'disclose' their costs. This means your lawyer should give you:

  • an estimate of the likely costs and how the costs will be calculated, or
  • a fixed amount that will be charged.

For more information, see Legal costs.

6. I received a bill from my lawyer which is much higher than​​ I expected. I think I have been overcharged. What can I do?

If you are unhappy with your lawyer's bill, you should try talking to them first. They may not have realised that they overcharged you or they may be willing to negotiate.

If you are unable to resolve the issue by talking to your lawyer you can consider complaining to the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner (OLSC). The OLSC can help you and your lawyer negotiate about costs.

If you are unable to negotiate with your lawyer, you can apply for a formal costs assessment at the Supreme Court of NSW.

For more information, see Complaints about a bill.

7. I am not happy with ​​the way my lawyer is handling my case. What should I do?

If you are not happy with the way your lawyer is handling your case, you should try talking to them about the problem first.

If talking about the problem doesn't resolve the issue, you can consider complaining to the Office of the Legal Services Commissioner (OLSC). The OLSC may investigate the complaint.

If you believe your lawyer has acted negligently, you can also consider starting a court case against them for professional negligence.

 You have six years to start legal action for professional negligence. Before taking any legal action, you should get legal advice.

For more information, see Complaints about a lawyer.

Getting ready for c​ourt - FAQs 

1. Can anyone else​​ other than a lawyer represent me?

If your case is in a court you have a right to be represented by a lawyer. It is only in exceptional circumstances that a court will give permission for a person who is not a lawyer to represent you.

Sometimes a court will allow a support person to sit with you in court and help you by taking notes, organising your evidence and material, and giving you advice. A person who does this is called a 'McKenzie Friend.'

If your case is in a tribunal, a person who is not a lawyer can usually represent you. You may need to 'seek leave' (ask permission) for a lawyer, or a person who is not a lawyer, to represent you.

2. Who can help ​​me if I represent myself?

Court and tribunal staff can give general information about process and what forms to use. They cannot tell you what to do or give you advice about your case.

You may be able to get some free legal advice about your case, and about what to do and say in court, from a Community Legal Centre (CLC), Legal Aid office or LawAccess NSW.

3. Where can I find le​​gal information?

You can find legal information using a number of resources. You can use:

  • other topics on this website
  • LawAccess Online
  • the Legal Information Access Centre
  • the Law Handbook.

For more information, see Researching the law.

4. What does 'burden of ​proof' mean?

A person who starts a case has the responsibility of proving their case. This responsibility is called the 'burden of proof' or the 'onus of proof'.

In a civil case, for a plaintiff to win, they must prove their case 'on the balance of probabilities'.

In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove 'beyond reasonable doubt' that the accused person committed the offence.

For more information, see Gathering evidence.

5. I've just started a c​ourt case. How should I organise my file?

Court cases usually involve a lot of documents. Organising these documents can help ensure your case runs as smoothly as possible. You can manage your case by:

  • gathering your evidence
  • preparing a chronology
  • keeping copies of everything
  • keeping a record of important dates
  • keeping a file of all documents.

For more information, see Managing your case.

6. I need an interpreter to help me talk to the court and the othe​​r party's lawyer. What are the available options?

There are a number of interpreting options that may be able to assist you, including:

  • Translating and Interpreting Service
  • Community Relations Commission
  • National Relay Service
  • Sign Language Communications.

For more information, see Arranging interpreters.

7. I've never been to court before. How will I know which cour​​troom I'm in?

When you arrive at court, there will be a court list on a wall or notice board in the foyer. The court list will have your name and the courtroom your case will be heard in. If you can't find your courtroom, the court staff will be able to assist you.

For more information, see What to do, say and wear in court.

8. What are legal co​s​ts?

Legal costs refer to both lawyers' fees and the expenses involved in running a case, for example, filing fees and court costs.

For more information, see Legal costs.

9. I'm not happy with th​e decision that was made in my case.  What can I do?

You may be able to appeal the decision. An appeal involves an application to have the original decision cancelled or changed.

Some types of cases have no right of appeal.

There are time limits for filing an appeal. You should get legal advice first.

For more information, see Appeals.

Reading and writing legal documents - FAQs ​

1. How do ​​​​I write like a lawyer?

You don't need to 'write like a lawyer' to write a good, clear and persuasive document. However, it is important that you:

  • read the documents that relate to your case
  • plan what you are going to write
  • use a standard text font if typing your document, for example, use a font like Arial or Times New Roman, or write neatly
  • make the layout easy to read (for example use numbered paragraphs or headings)
  • check your grammar and spelling
  • use plain English
  • avoid slang or swear words and keep things professional
  • make sure your document makes sense (for example, put things in date order).

For more information, see Writing skills.

2. I have received a lot of different documents for m​​y court case. I don't really understand what they say. What can I do?

When reading legal documents, you should consider:

  • headings and reference numbers
  • the reason you have been sent the document
  • legal phrases and Latin words
  • using a dictionary.

You should carefully read any documents you have received. You need to understand what they are saying, and what (if anything) they are asking you to do.

To help you understand your options for responding to the legal documents, you should get legal advice.

For more information, see Reading legal documents.

3. How should I write a l​​etter about my legal case?

When writing a letter in a legal case, you should make sure you are clear about what case or dispute you are writing about. The best way to do this is to include case names, court case numbers and, if you are writing to a lawyer, the law firm's reference number, if you know these details.

You should also clearly say in your letter:

  • why you are writing
  • what your response to any claim made against you, or previous letters you have received, is
  • what you intend to do or what you want the other party or their law firm, or the court, to do.

When you write a letter, you should be careful not to write something that can be used as evidence in court against you. If you are unsure, you should get legal advice.

For more information, see Letters.

4. I have been told I need to file written evidence. What is this?​​

There are three main types of written evidence:

  • affidavits
  • statements
  • statutory declarations.

Affidavits are often used as evidence in court instead of giving evidence in person. Statements might be used in court cases as evidence instead of hearing from the witness in person, but are also used to tell each side what witnesses will say in court. Statutory declarations are often used as evidence of a fact where there is no court case, but can sometimes be used in tribunal hearings.

When writing an affidavit, statement or statutory declaration, you should only include information that is relevant and true.

For more information, see Affidavits, statements and statutory declarations.

5. I have just agreed on a settlement with the ot​​her party. How do we put it in writing?

You can put the terms of your settlement in writing in a number of ways. It is possible to write a deed of settlement and release which describes what each party has to do and releases each party from further obligations. If a court case has already started, you can write a 'terms of settlement' document and file a Consent Judgment or Orders with the court.

For more information, see Agreements and settlements.   

6. Can I get som​​e help filling out a form?

There are many services that may be able to help you fill out your form. Often, you can get help from the department or service that you need to give the completed form to.

This website has sample forms and instructions for the following topics:

You can also call LawAccess NSW for information and referrals.

7. I have to serve s​​ome court documents and I need to do it quickly. Is it possible to serve them by fax or email?

If you have to serve (formally give) court documents urgently you may be able to do it by email or fax, but you should get legal advice before you do. Some documents need to be served personally. The way that you are allowed to serve documents will depend on the type of document, and the court or tribunal your case is in.

If you are going to serve court documents by email or fax, it is useful to know what to write in the email or on a fax cover sheet.

For more information, see Emails and faxes.​

​How to make a com​​​plaint​​ ​- FAQs

1. What can I do if I ​​a​m​ not happy ​​​ab​out a service provided by a government agency or business?

If you are not happy about a service, you should contact the government agency or business directly to explain the problem and give them the opportunity to resolve the complaint. Most organisations have an internal complaint-handling procedure.  If you are still not happy with the outcome of your complaint, you can make a formal complaint to a relevant independent organisation.

 There are time limits to lodge complaints for some types of matters.

For more information, see Who to make a complaint to

2. Do I have to put my com​​plaint in writing?

There are a number of ways to make a complaint to an organisation. You may make a complaint:

  • in person
  • by telephone
  • in writing,  or
  • online (through the organisation's website). ​

Sometimes a complaint can be resolved with just a telephone call.  If you are writing a letter of complaint, make sure you include details of what your complaint is about and the outcome you want.

It is important that you keep copies of all the letters you send and receive as well as details of who you spoke to over the telephone.

For more information, see How to make a complaint.​

3. How long will it ta​ke for my complaint to be resolved?

This depends on the type of complaint. Most organisations must respond to a complaint within a specific timeframe. If you have any concerns about how your complaint is being handled, you should contact the organisation directly.