Competent Legal Counsel - The APEX Law Firm

Should I Represent Myself In Court?

“Excuse me, sir.  Are you an attorney?”

“Yes, I am.  How may I help you?”

“If I could ask you a question or two.  I’ve got this court date, today.  I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“Why don’t you tell me what’s going on with your matter?”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had variations of that conversation. Usually, I’m in the courthouse meeting with a client or possibly discussing an issue with another attorney when I become aware of someone waiting to speak with me.  I think of courthouses, especially courtrooms, as full of stress, even when things are supposed to be amicable or uncontested.  At times, we may walk out having been pleasantly surprised by the outcome of the proceedings. However, far more often we leave frustrated, stymied and even angry.

Showing up to the courthouse, to speak before the Court (the judge when she/he is sitting on the bench and the proceedings are officially in session) can be extremely daunting for someone who has not hired an attorney. This is known as appearing pro sePro se is a Latin language term for self-represented.  Pro se parties are not attorneys.  As temptingly easy as it looks to be when watching TV shows or movies, it is not a simple or shallow endeavor to represent a party in a court proceeding.  Most attorneys will tell you they would rather have another attorney represent them when they have their own matter pending before the Court.

There are many reasons for hiring a lawyer. A few are: 1) it is easy to feel too close to a situation, especially in a family law matter, 2) knowing when to speak and what to say to the Court is a skill set that requires mastery of procedural rules and knowledge of various judges’ preferences and proclivities, and 3) practice makes perfect. There is a reason it’s called the practice of law. The more we do it, the better we become at the practice of law.

I have been witness to pro se parties trying to make their cases but not understanding what the requirements are, not realizing what issue they should be addressing to the Court or simply not knowing which procedure to apply.  Is every pro se party hopeless and helpless?  Of course not, remember…practice makes perfect.  However, attorneys have a great deal more experience, familiarity with and knowledge of the courthouse and, more specifically, the courtroom.

The next time you believe you can represent yourself in, let’s say, a custody battle, think hard. What if the Court asks you for a memorandum that should have accompanied your filing?  Don’t be that person tugging at my jacket sleeve and asking for advice at the last possible moment. Although I’ll be happy to help you, hiring an attorney as soon as you know you’ll be involved in a court matter is always the best way to go.  It is a far better thing to walk into a courthouse knowing there is a skilled professional prepared to fight for your rights than to walk in and not understand everything that occurs.

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