The oft-quoted, “A man who represents himself has a fool for a lawyer”, was invented by a lawyer. It’s like a preacher saying “A person who prays for himself is a heathen.” In both cases, the speaker advocates for his or her best interest.
Yet, the concern about the growing number of self-represented litigants and their difficulties navigating the court system is well-documented.
Most people in civil cases are there without a lawyer. Do they all want to be there alone? No, but most have no choice. There are though many good reasons to represent yourself in court. Below are our top 10.
10. You don’t want to be wholesaled.
Before the days of mass litigation, companies didn’t sue their customers. They attempted to collect through other means, like collection agencies, phone calls, and letters. Now, companies are taking their customers to court at an alarming rate. Through one lawyer, a company can sue fifty people and have them all scheduled to appear in one courtroom on the same day. Most people in these cases don’t show up, so the companies get a default judgment. That is the benefit of suing wholesale. The defaulted parties end up paying more than they initially owed, including attorney’s fees and court costs. When you show up, you may be able to stop the factory-like taking of your property or having a judgment on your record. You do this by making the company prove its case and challenging any and all accusations. The first requirement for this is to show up.
9. You know your case better than anyone.
You’re the best witness for your case. You know what happened, when and how. Telling someone else and letting them represent you may sound comforting, but they get to communicate what you know to the decision maker. Their interpretation of what happened may be different from yours. Since you have a huge stake in the outcome, you may be able to argue more effectively for yourself to a judge or jury. In a factual dispute you may be better able to present your perspective when cross-examining and challenging a witness. You can pick your main issues and make your own arguments when you represent yourself in court. Not only can you bring out the evidence yourself, you can demonstrate your own credibility in the process.
8. A lawyer will give you only the representation your money can buy.
If you have the money, it may seem comforting to drop a few thousand bucks on a lawyer to represent you. The lawyer takes your money and goes to work. If he charges a fixed amount per case, he may have a template in respect to your case type. The facts of your case may make him stray a little from his typical MO, but for the most part, he will not go over your docs with a fine tooth comb to find weaknesses in the opposing party’s case. He doesn’t have time for that. If he has five thousand dollars, he will give you five thousand dollars worth. But, if you need him to crawl through documents, he will charge you more. If you have no more, he will stop working no matter how good your case.
7. You have a right to represent yourself in court.
Court procedures and rules of evidence are designed by and for lawyers and judges. For the average pro se litigant, this is daunting. Yet, you have a right to represent yourself in court. You pay for them, and in all honesty, they should not be designed for the advantage of lawyers and judges at the expense of average citizens. When average citizens use the courts, they assert their rights to constitutional due process. So even when you lose, we all win.
6. You are capable of representing yourself.
There is a notable imbalance between the chance of losing for a pro se litigant and equally high chance of winning for lawyers fighting non-lawyers in court. However, if you can do the necessary research and comprehend cases and statutes, why not represent yourself in court? If you do, you stand a much better chance of either winning or getting a more favorable decision. Fighting back puts you in a stronger position. Too, it could make you more self-assured. Given that the deck is stacked in favor of the legal system, courts, lawyers and judges — not you — you should be fighting mad and self-assured.
5. You’re likely to work much harder for yourself than an attorney will.
No one cares more about your case than you. When you represent yourself, you do the research, you drive to the courthouse, you write and file documents, you pay for parking, and you attend hearings. Your attorney may spend four hours a week on your case. You might spend ten. With the extra time, you may be able to find important details or arguments an attorney may miss.
4. You can’t afford a lawyer.
You don’t have the money to hire an attorney, especially for as long as the case may take. If you hire an attorney and win, you either will have paid out lots of money or the attorney will take a huge amount off the top. If you lose, you’re responsible for the expenses you incurred as well as court costs and fees for your attorney and the attorney for the opposing party. Your attorney will not share the loss with you. So, if you can’t afford a lawyer, you might fare better if you represent yourself in court.
3. You’re not overly intimidated by the legal process.
The court system is adversarial in nature. It’s understandable that you might be intimidated, but don’t let it stop you from having your day in court. Lawyers thrive on the intimidation of pro se litigants, especially those who might actually owe a debt and feel somewhat guilty. However, the debt you owe may not be the most important thing in your life. Even among your debts, it may be very insignificant. So don’t allow an attorney to elevate his needs and those of his clients above your own. Show up and stand up.
2. The amount in dispute is less than what you might pay a lawyer.
In some instances where money damages are concerned, the amount disputed may be so minuscule that you’re better off taking chances with the legal system on your own. You don’t want to pay a lawyer $2500 to represent you in a $900 case.
1. You don’t want no stinkin’ lawyer.
For years the legal profession has supported the notion of lawyers for everyone who needs them, but so far that’s a failing proposition. Not everyone who needs one wants one or gets one. Thus, the problem isn’t one of representation but one of competent self-representation. That’s the solution when you don’t want no stinkin’ lawyer.