So many articles, blogs and blog comments by lawyers bemoan the presence of self-represented litigants in court. Using Learning to Live with Pro Se Opponents as a jumping off point, let’s take an abbreviated look at the other side.
As American citizens who want to represent themselves in court, pro se litigants often have to cope with supercilious lawyers. Maybe arrogant, disdainful or smug behavior from lawyers stems from law school training—perhaps a course called Overblown Notions of Self-importance 3100. It’s also likely that lawyers pick up such attitudes from TV shows.
Whatever the reason, pro se litigants handling eviction, debt collection, divorce, foreclosure and other civil matters are increasingly challenged by patronizing lawyers and judges. Patient, hard working and overburdened pro se litigants see more than their share of haughty lawyers. I estimate that 95% of attorneys can be described as snotty, snooty or haughty. That constitutes an increase in such qualities since the 1970s. These statistics are shocking!
What’s the Big Deal About Lawyers?
Maybe it’s unfair to refer to a lawyer just doing his or her job as snobby, arrogant, haughty, or other synonym for “supercilious”. After all, people in this country have a right to be snobby, arrogant, haughty, or other synonym for “supercilious”. The more arrogant a lawyer, the more effective—right? Maybe. Unfortunately, from a pro se litigant’s perspective, opposing a disdainful lawyer often means headaches. Pro se litigants complain that lawyers know the rules but don’t always follow them, use rules of evidence to take unfair advantages, bully pro se litigants, resort to trickery when desperate, play buddy buddy with judges to get more favorable decisions, and have access to resources that self-represented parties do not.
But I’m a Star Like “Matlock”
If you encounter the lawyer whose sole purpose is to capitalize on your lack of knowledge or on the judge’s bias against pro se litigants, be aware that your presence is only additional fodder. Outside the courtroom, the lawyer might try to (1) moderate or settle the case by offering you pennies to compensate for thousands spent; (2) bully you into paying far more than initially complained of; or (3) threaten to charge huge amounts in attorney’s fees if you lose. In the courtroom, the supercilious lawyer is eager to subject you to a cross-examination that can only be described as patronizing (wink wink to the judge).
You have several options for opposing a lawyer who has confused “Suits,” “Law and Order”, “The Practice”, “Matlock” and even “Boston Legal” with real life. First, do your research before going to court. React with calm effectiveness to arrogant behavior, insulting offers of resolution, or motions that border on the frivolous. If, for example, a lawyer seeks a protective order claiming you are harassing, delaying or being otherwise inappropriate, don’t yell or scream at him, file a motion that will make him or her justify the accusations with real case and statutory law. In court, stick to the issues and make sure the lawyer does too. If he or she brings in information about you that is not in evidence or at issue, object. Bring them back to reality. Let them know that you can fight and that this show won’t end with one episode. This is real life, not “L.A. Law.”
Getting Used to Lawyers
As for the phenomenon of the supercilious lawyer—you may as well get used to it. They’re here to stay. There’s little to be gained from complaining about arrogant lawyers who take unfair advantage of a system we pay for. Focus instead on making it as difficult as possible for them to get an easy win. If you lose, you’ll have stood up for yourself. That’s something to be proud of, and it helps us all in the long run. If you win, you can forever say, I faced the supercilious lawyer, and I smote him / her thus!