“He who represents himself has a fool for a lawyer” – Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln was actually referring to lawyers who represent themselves but I’ve seen it time after time when litigants believe they can represent themselves and be effective.
Walking into a courtroom for any kind of litigation or hearing without a lawyer is like trying to quarterback without an offensive line. You might get out alive, but you won’t win. First and foremost, experienced lawyers are comfortable in courtrooms and the workings of courtrooms. They know the judges, bailiffs, court reporters, and clerks. They know the rhythm of a hearing/trial. They know the lingo.
I watched my lawyer/boss this morning at the courthouse. He’s a great guy, a brilliant lawyer, and a true Southern Gentleman. Outside the courthouse, he’s calm, cool and conciliatory. This morning, he sat down on the bench outside the courtroom waiting for the hearing like he was the master of his domain and he was surveying his territory. He wasn’t being arrogant, yet his confidence in that environment rolled off him in waves. It was obvious he was a gladiator and that courthouse is his Coliseum.
It’s my belief that litigation is war, and that the only reason to ever go to war is to win. How stupid would it be to go into battle alone? How stupid would it be to attempt to win without a team? Or a general? Who is going to formulate the plan? Who is going to gather the resources? Who is going to prepare the team for all contingencies?
You don’t have the knowledge, training or skill. You just don’t. I’m smart and I’m been a litigation paralegal for over 30 years. Trust me, I was thrilled to have a lawyer with me this morning. His last words to me were, “You’re job is to look pretty and keep your mouth shut unless the judge asks you a question”. I never thought I had submissive tendencies but that’s now open to question because I did exactly what I was told. For once.
In any family law courtroom in the country, judges and clerks are not allowed to assist you or help you if you choose to represent yourself. Worst case scenario, you could unknowingly incriminate yourself. Remember my post about using voice activated recorders, etc.? If you use one and choose to be your own lawyer, the potential exists that you may inadvertently rat yourself out. Those are federal charges. That’s the Bighouse if you’re convicted. Your lawyer knows how to navigate your case so that you are protected.
The biggest downfall in representing yourself is allowing your emotional involvement to get in the way. You can try to control your emotions, but I can tell you from personal experience that emotions do indeed cloud your judgment. Particularly in divorces. Like I said, I’m a paralegal. I should know better. And yet, I readily admit that whenever I have to see or deal with Walkaway Bob and the last remaining details of our divorce, it is stressful. It’s difficult to be impartial. This is my life. This is my financial future. I have no objectivity about it. None. Nor should I. I’m a Warrior. I’m fighting for me.
As you should be emotional about your case. You should be your own Warrior. You should get fired up about it.
However, it’s especially helpful to have someone in the driver’s seat who has no emotional attachment to the issues or the outcomes. Your lawyer will have a clearer mind. Your lawyer will be able to help you understand when a compromise is in your best interests even though your guts are screaming, “Kill The Bastard!“. (Just to be clear, I never said that. Never. Nope. Not me. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)
If these aren’t enough reasons to never go into a courtroom without a lawyer, consider the statistics. If you choose to represent yourself, the statistics aren’t in your favor. Litigation is difficult. No case is ever a slam dunk. Remember: litigation is war and the only reason to ever go to war is to win.
Just like you wouldn’t perform surgery on yourself, please, I beg of you, do not go into a courtroom for any reason without a lawyer. Set yourself up for success. Spend the money. Your future is at stake.