Representing Myself or Hiring an Attorney Part 1

written by Amber Tarbox, Esq.

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So you’ve been sued or are planning to sue someone else and are wondering whether you should represent yourself instead of hiring an attorney? I can’t say that there are no circumstances in which it might make sense to represent yourself, but I can say that it is almost never a good idea. After law school, I spent two years as a law clerk for a district court judge, so I watched a lot of people represent themselves in court. Now, some of these people did end up winning their cases, but the process was much messier and more difficult than it would have been had the person hired an attorney instead. Here are just a few of the reasons why it is better to hire an attorney than to represent yourself in court:

  1. Attorneys have the training and experience to make your case go smoother and more quickly. While there are plenty of self-help resources out there, any amount of reading about what you need to do in your situation can’t substitute for the years of school and specialized training that attorneys go through, not to mention the experience of their years in practice. Not to be too cliché, but most people wouldn’t try to self-diagnose or self-treat a medical problem; they would go see a doctor. Why then would you want to “self-treat” a legal problem instead of talking to a lawyer?
  2. Attorneys go to court much more frequently than the average person, which means they are familiar with the judges and have probably appeared before your judge on numerous occasions. This is a huge advantage because different judges run their courtrooms very differently, they have different preferences on how documents should be formatted when they are filed, on how court hearings should proceed, etc. None of these are things that a lay person can easily figure out without the help of an attorney.
  3. Attorneys aren’t as emotionally invested in the outcome of the case as their clients, which means that the attorney can evaluate the case objectively and give the recommendations that the client needs to hear, even when it might not be what the client wants to hear. In other words, an attorney is in a better place than the client to determine the course of action that is in the best interests of the client, while taking into account what the law allows.
  4. Attorneys are also less prone to say or do something in court that would be harmful to their client’s case. I have seen parties who chose to represent themselves in court yell and curse at the judge and at the opposing party. While this behavior may be understandable given the extreme feelings involved in a court case, it isn’t appropriate behavior for court and it is extremely harmful to that person’s case. Attorneys have the training, practice, and distance from the case to avoid these kinds of harmful behaviors.
  5. Attorneys who find themselves in a legal battle, be it a divorce, a personal injury, or whatever, almost always hire other attorneys to represent them. While attorneys certainly have the knowledge to represent themselves in court, they generally avoid it for the reasons mentioned above. If an attorney wouldn’t represent him or herself in court, you should really consider whether it makes sense for you to do so.

There are many other reasons why you shouldn’t represent yourself in court, but these five should be enough to convince you not to represent yourself in court. If, for whatever reason, you’re still thinking about representing yourself in court, stay tuned for part two of this blog post in which I will discuss the situations in which it may make sense to represent yourself and the resources available to you if your only reason for wanting to represent yourself is because you think you can’t afford an attorney.

If you have questions regarding a legal case, contact the lawyers at Howard, Lewis & Petersen, PC today.

Posted February 8th, 2016