Representing Yourself in Court

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There are times when representing yourself in court may seem the logical way to go, and self-representation is legal in most instances. You do take a substantial risk due to your lack of legal training.

Going pro see is the term for litigants who represent themselves in court. It is means “for yourself” in Latin.

It is not uncommon to feel you know the facts of your case better than anyone, so why pay a lawyer? The quick answer is because your attorney knows how to present your case to the court using the best legal strategy.

The other reason people give for going pro se is that they are unable to pay attorney fees. If you are a defendant in a criminal matter, the court will appoint an attorney for you if your finances show an inability to pay.

If it is a civil matter, a consultation with an attorney is wise. Depending on your case attorney fees may not be as high as you think, or your case may qualify for contingency fees.

The Pros of Pro Se

When representing yourself, you know your case better than anyone. You save yourself time meeting with and hiring an attorney.  You also have no attorney fees to pay.

Florida is pro se friendly, and many courthouses have a pro se library or resource center. The Florida Supreme Court website contains a variety of resources for those persons navigating the court system without an attorney. This includes information on filing and fees, how the court operates, and research assistance.

The Cons of Pro Se

When you attempt to represent yourself in court you have emotions that play into your presentation. When you hire an attorney, they are able to look at your case with an objective view, making sound legal decisions.

In addition to emotion affecting your perspective, you lack knowledge in the legal process. To represent yourself you must become knowledgeable in pleadings, discovery, court deadlines, negotiations, law, and Florida Rules of Court Procedure.

The rules are similar but different when dealing with the county court, circuit court, District Court of Appeals, Florida Supreme Court, and federal court. If you make a mistake there is no forgiveness.

Small Claims Court

Florida allows the filing of a lawsuit for $8,000 or less in small claims court. Many states do not allow legal representation at this level. Florida does allow you to have an attorney in the small claims division.

Your determination on legal representation will be a personal decision regarding the offset lawsuit amount v. the cost of attorney fees. Be aware that small claims court has its own set of court rules. The court will not assist in the collection of monetary awards.

Never Sign a Contract

When you are presented with a contract or settlement offer, you may read it over and think it is fine. Don’t sign it! The first thing you need to do is have an attorney review that agreement.

Lawyers are familiar with legal jargon and wording in a contract. They will make sure you are getting what you believe you are getting.

For example, a child visitation agreement says you can have parenting time with your children “as the parties agree.” Do you and your ex-spouse ever agree on anything? How often do you agree on things regarding the children?

Because the document does not specify the days, hours, and times you have access to your children, your spouse is able to refuse access without violating the court order. To resolve any problems you will need to go back into court and battle out a new agreement. Not only that, but child support is based on the number of overnights the child spends with each parent, so an open agreement may result in you paying a higher level of child support.

Similar situations may occur in any type of case, whether a lawsuit, divorce, criminal plea, or resolving a probate matter. Your attorney will be familiar with wording that may hold a different meaning in court. At the very least, consult with an attorney who will read the contract over and offer their legal opinion.

Don’t Battle the Pros

If the other party has an attorney you need an attorney as well. You do not have the knowledge and skills to battle with a professional in the legal field.

If you are going to court pro se and the other party is also pro se, you are proceeding on equal ground. Likely neither of you have legal training and will make an equal number of errors.

If you attempt to represent yourself against an attorney, it is an amateur v. professional battle. You wouldn’t expect to win against Dustin Johnson in a golf tournament, or Serena Williams on the tennis courts, so why do you feel you can challenge an attorney in the courtroom?

Even when the other party’s lawyer is nice to you, acts friendly, and presents you with an awesome agreement, remember one thing. They are representing someone you are going against in court. They are offering you an agreement that benefits their client, not you.

As soon as you learn that the other party has legal representation, call and schedule a consultation with a Florida attorney.

Personal Representative for an Estate

There are some matters you are capable of handling on your own, but the laws and requirements can be cumbersome. This is the case when dealing with the loss of a loved one while trying to manage their estate.

Probate attorneys are familiar with probate procedures. They will help you complete this process in a timely, efficient manner the comports with the law. Florida law requires personal representatives to hire an attorney.

The Risk of Representing Yourself

According to the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), 62% of trial judges state that persons who use self-representation do not have the same success rate their counterparts who use attorneys do.

If you plan to represent yourself you need to do extensive research and learn legal procedures. The IAALS at the University of Denver has an online toolkit for those planning to represent themselves in court. This includes an extensive list of links to resources throughout the country.

The Decision: Do You Need a Lawyer?

You wouldn’t hire a plumber to do your dental work so why hire yourself to do legal work when you do not have the proper training? Even lawyers hire other lawyers when they find themselves a party in a legal matter. If those trained in the legal process know representing yourself is not a good idea, why would you consider it?

Here at the Boyer Law Firm, we have knowledgeable attorneys to assist with your legal needs. If you are questioning the legal ramifications of proceeding without an attorney or are in the midst of a case and find yourself in over your head, contact us using the link below to schedule a case evaluation.