3 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Represent Yourself in Court
Could you represent yourself in court? Yes, of course. The law allows anyone to appear “pro se,” legalese for “on one’s behalf.” No attorney is necessary. But should you? The answer to that is a clear, resounding “NO!” from anyone you ask in the legal profession.
Why? I’ll give you three reasons.
#1. You probably don’t have the knowledge to represent yourself.
The law is complicated! Navigating a courtroom and the procedures within it is daunting, even for matters that seem very simple. Just because you have the ability to walk into a courtroom and represent yourself, doesn’t mean you are going to do it well.
The average person wouldn’t cut their own hair, fix a plumbing leak in their home, or perform their own surgery. They’d hire individuals specifically trained in those fields to do so – a hairstylist, plumber, or surgeon. The legal field is no different. If you want to ensure the best possible result, hire an experienced lawyer to advocate for you in court.
#2. Even if you have the legal knowledge (or think you do), you don’t have the experience.
Recently, I spoke with a woman who represented herself in a family law matter. She believed she didn’t need an attorney because she knew the law (and, admittedly she sounded like she knew quite a bit) and her case was complicated. In her opinion, she knew her case better than anyone, and no one would fight for her position as hard as she would. Unfortunately, she lost the case. Now, she wants to go back to court and try again. This time, however, she plans to do so with an attorney.
While you may know your case better than anyone, you probably aren’t the best advocate for your position in court. There are numerous reasons why.
In all likelihood: You haven’t appeared in court before. Even if you have, you will probably face an attorney on the opposing side – one who has the knowledge, training, and experience you lack. You don’t know that attorney, the clerk, or the bailiffs in the courtroom. You’ve never interviewed testifying witnesses, argued motions, or presented opening and closing arguments. You don’t know the rules of evidence or when to object to the admission of evidence and have never argued evidentiary objections with opposing counsel. The list could go on.
All of the above, and more, are necessary to present your case in the best possible light. It is very unlikely that you can do that on your own, without experience and legal training. Attorneys go through years of law school to advocate for others. For that reason, unlike you, your attorney DOES know all of the above. It is always best to have an attorney there to advise you. If you do, your case will have a much higher chance of success than you would otherwise have.
#3. Because the internet has everything I need to know.
If I had a dollar for every time a potential client tried to quote me the law or what I need to do on the case, I'd be able to pay off my student loans. Well, not really, but you get the point. There is so much information on the internet, and a majority of the so called "advice" you find on the internet is is either contradictory, specific to an individuals unique set of facts, partially or wholly incorrect, or a combination of those.
I know how to change the oil in my car. Hell, a cursory google search would likely give me at least 20 videos on how to take apart my engine and put it back together. Check engine light? Weird noise coming from the passenger side? Google, please advise!
All joking aside, I don't try to fix the car myself. I take it to a mechanic. Why? Because they're trained to work on cars. They do it everyday. That's what they're paid to do. They have likely seen nearly every issue and heard nearly every "the noise sounds like" impression that I can muster up. Same goes with your attorney. We navigate the legal system everyday. We know the judges. We know opposing counsel. We know the law. We may be expensive at times, but that price comes with the wealth of knowledge we possess and our zeal to ensure you have the best chance possible to get what you want at the end of the day. We also carry with us an immense amount of pressure because we may be holding your rights and/or your future in our debt-soaked hands. That being said, you should consider hiring a firm who parses our their legal services to make it cheaper for you! #shamelessplug
In short: don't let confidence turn into cockiness. Hire a lawyer (or at least consult with one first!)