ONTARIO SMALL CLAIMS COURT: PREPARING YOUNG LAWYERS FOR THE MAJOR LEAGUE


Many may argue that the Ontario Small Claims Court system is a sad legal mechanism for carrying out effective justice. That I do not doubt. However, I believe the answer really depends on who you ask. The Small Claims Court is designed to be “For The People”, but in practice, the procedures and formalities are enough to confuse many lawyers at times. Navigating the Small Claims Court system without a solid legal understanding can be like Scuba Diving with an air tank full of hornets.  From the layman’s stand point; the small claims court system is an inconvenient process with legal headaches and complexities beyond belief. For the young lawyer however, it may be just the perfect training ground.

As a young lawyer embarking on my legal career, I see the Ontario Small Claims Court for what it is: “The Minor Leagues”.  From a young lawyer’s standpoint, it is a training ground with a much lower margin of error than “The Big Leagues”. It is a forum for learning to draft legal materials, presenting cases before a judge, participating in settlement conferences, practicing trial skills and enforcing judgments.

The Ontario Small Claims Court limit is only $25,000. This is a relatively small amount of money in comparison to the higher levels of court and as a result, mistakes made in the Small Claims Court will not likely ruin your career or reputation in the scheme of things. On the contrary, the experience may be worth a lot more than the monetary limit itself.

Because most of the judges are “Deputy” Judges, they are essentially lawyers who work as part time judges. They are there to carry out the mandate of the court in accordance with the Rules of the Small Claims Court but they are also there to learn from no matter how critical they may seem at times. Their criticism can instill habits in a young lawyer that may assist them one day when they stand before a real judge in the ”The Big Leagues”.

For example, during a recent motion appearance before a small claims Judge, I presented the same point twice because I thought it would better emphasize what I needed to get across. The Judge angrily raised his voice and made it quite clear that once was enough. Of course, this was only a “ Minor League Ball Game”. I’ve learned that once is enough, and if and when I get called up to “The Major Leagues”, I will not make the same mistake.

Despite the many inconveniences and imperfections of the Ontario Small Claims Court in serving swift justice to those who need it most, at least it provides a training camp for young lawyers to learn the system. After all, if small claims plaintiffs resorted to hit men and contract killers instead of lawyers to achieve more effective results, how on earth would young lawyers get their feet wet?

 
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