Do I need to retain an attorney?
- March 29, 2017
If you are involved in any incident that might involve legal action, you need to speak with an attorney. While it might seem like your case is a straightforward matter, just shepherding it through the legal process is a project fraught with potentially costly mistakes, arcane schedules, rules and legal precedents that no lay person can possibly be expected to understand well enough over the course of a single case. Here are some of the things you will find require professional legal advice.
When it comes to a court of law, the judge is the absolute authority, at least as far as the handling of the case itself is concerned. Litigating well is something only a very few people in the world can do. Good trial attorneys are as rare as good novelists, or good knuckleball pitchers.
A lay person who argues a case on their own is known as a plaintiff or defendant appearing before the court “pro se.” This is a Latin phrase that means “on one’s own behalf.” In a criminal case, since the defendant is guaranteed a fair trial, a judge can only forbid a pro se defendant’s presentation of their defense in extreme circumstances. In a civil case, however, a judge has far more latitude and is often unlikely to permit a plaintiff or defendant to represent themselves.
Who Are You?
If a judge does allow you to represent yourself, you really must only be representing yourself. If your company is involved, you may find yourself denied permission to argue the case pro se. The reason for this is that from a legal standpoint, your corporation or LLC is a separate “person.” A lay person may not represent someone else (even a company) in a court of law. That is a privilege reserved only for a person allowed to practice law in much the same way performing a medical procedure requires a medical license.
In some very limited circumstances, like a case involving a single-member LLC that is really only the alter-ego of the sole member, a court may allow the case to proceed with a pro se defendant or plaintiff. It isn’t a common thing, but it does happen.
Rules, Schedules and More Rules
Lawyers spend a great deal of time studying subjects like rules of evidence, statutes of limitations and the docket rules and regulations of various courts around the country. The average non-lawyer’s chances of successfully navigating all these arcane regulatory thickets while successfully arguing a potentially complex case are minimal.
The problem with these rules is not the fact they are complex. It is the fact that mistakes can cost your side the entire case. For example, many laws have statutory limits. Even if you persuaded a judge to let you exceed such a limit, your case would still fail on the grounds a judge cannot overturn the will of Congress or the legislature. Having a lawyer avoids these problems because knowing the law is their job.
You Need Help
Leaving aside your potential acumen as a lay practitioner of the law, the simple fact is one person can only do so much. You might need help with jury selection. You will need to locate, qualify and prepare expert witnesses. You may need to take depositions, file and respond to motions on time and be ready to file appeals if necessary. Each of these things are extraordinarily complex tasks that even some lawyers often perform with less than adequate results. If the case is important enough for you to pursue, then it is important enough to place in the hands of a professional.
Make things easy for yourself, because they aren’t going to get any easier on their own. Many law firms will offer you a free consultation where you can lay out your case and get an expert opinion. Take advantage of this and see if it might be the better path to give yourself the best chance of success both before and during your trial and subsequent work. Do you need an attorney? If you are asking that question, the answer is yes.