Society

Lawyer Turned 'Legal Coach' – In France, A New Way To Make Your Own Case In Court

There is a new way to reduce legal costs. Law firms prepare the case and coach their clients, who then defend themselves – without a lawyer – in court.

Taking the case into your own hands (nrv75)
Taking the case into your own hands (nrv75)
Rafaële Rivais

PARIS - Leïla Foudil bought a new Opel car for 24,000 euros three years ago, but the vehicle kept breaking down and she had to spend 3,000 euros for repairs. It's a familiar story with a familiar dilemma. "Everyone told me to sue the car dealer, but I didn't know how to do it. A lawyer is expensive. And how do I find the right one?"

Foudil posted questions on car owner Internet forums and found out that very few drivers dare suing auto manufacturers. "I also googled ‘cheap lawyer" or ‘discount legal services' and it turned out it would cost me about 2,000 euros!" she recalls.

Someone then told her about Jean Alexandre Buchinger, a Parisian lawyer and founder of a "legal coaching" network who told her to file an emergency procedure requesting the court to appoint an expert on the case.

Buchinger offered to prepare the legal case, but told Foudil that she could defend herself in court. The total price: 900 euros. "They told me what to expect at the hearing, and what I should do," she said. "I was quite at ease, actually. The judge and the lawyer of General Motors even asked me if I was a lawyer!"

Foudil managed to obtain the appointment of an expert, who in turn found a latent defect in the vehicle.

The Legal Coaching Network (Coachingjudiciaire.com), which has about 40 members in France, offers to cut legal costs by letting their clients handle their case on their own once inside the courtroom. "You don't have to bill the time spent in transportation or waiting in court lobbies during deliberation," Buchinger explains.

Paying for the services of attorneys is "two or three times cheaper" if they do not have to show up in court. "Actually, in most cases – with the exception of criminal cases – the key element is the content of the case, not the quality of the argument," Buchinger adds. "We prepare the case with all the documents and evidence, we file all the forms necessary, and we prepare a note for the client to read on the day of the hearing." Videos of mock trials can also be watched on the website.

Courting Disaster

On the first appointment, a lawyer offers a detailed quote of services, at a 240 euros per hour basis. For instance, the lawyer can bill two hours of work for someone who wants to recover a debt that someone owes them: one hour to prepare the case and one hour to actually file the procedure in court and at the bailiff's. A landowner whose tenant is failing to pay the rent will probably be billed with three hours of work: preparing and sending the summons to pay, filing the procedure in court, etc.

Legal coaching is a possibility in French cases where a lawyer is not compulsory, including such non-criminal procedures as bankruptcy, administrative, district and family courts (except for divorce cases). Buchinger advises not to go in court "alone" if you are the defendant, and he insists that "it is better to have a lawyer from the beginning until the end of the procedure."

Legal fees are a particular problem for people who earn between 1,500 and 4,000 euros a month, because they are not entitled to legal aid (which is available for people making less than 930 euros). The system pushes this segment of the population to defend themselves on their own by providing them with paperwork to fill in order to file a lawsuit. "But most of the time, they are courting disaster when they know neither law nor case law," Buchinger says.For these people, legal coaching may be just what the doctor ordered.

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo - nvr75

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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