How to Represent Yourself in Court

Pettit Law Firm

don’t.

Self-representation, otherwise known as pro se representation, is frequently seen as a solution when one wants to avoid using a lawyer for their case. By representing yourself, you can act as your own attorney and have ultimate control over your case. As ideal as it may sound, there’s a reason the adage goes, “he who acts as his own lawyer has a fool for a client.”

Let’s explore some of the issues surrounding pro se representation and how it could cause you to lose your case.

Myths vs. facts regarding pro se representation

Don’t get lost trying to navigate the facts and fiction of pro se representation. We’ve debunked a few of the bigger myths for you here.

Myth: I know my case better than my lawyer!

In all reality, you probably do know your facts better than your lawyer, but that is only half the battle. You also need to know how the law applies to your facts and how to prove your case through legal tactics, not just pure emotion or certainty that you are right. Instead, provide your lawyer with all information you think could be even the least bit beneficial to your case. Keep in mind that just because you think a fact is relevant doesn’t mean everyone else will.

Myth: I can’t afford a lawyer.

It’s true that money can be an issue, but it shouldn’t come between you winning or losing your case. If you are a defendant, you may be out thousands of dollars paying back court costs and more if you choose to go without a lawyer. There are many lawyers who offer free consultations or may even let you go without paying until you win your case. Paying for a lawyer is an investment in your case and yourself, and representing yourself is a measure that often costs you in the long run.

Myth: I know what I’m doing.

Unless you are a trained attorney, you most likely do not. Lawyers go through years of schooling and training to learn how to use proper legal technique, so don’t assume that you can go through Google and make up for law school. The more complicated a case is, the more likely it is that there will be confusing legal proceedings that the average layperson cannot navigate on their own. When a person tries to represent themselves in court against someone who has an attorney, the attorney will win 99.9% of the time because they know what legal arguments they can make that can stop your case dead in its tracks.

What are the problems with pro se representation?

Simply put, you are far more likely to lose your case if you represent yourself. That aside, there are a number of potential pitfalls with pro se representation:

  • No margin for error. Court cases come with many deadlines and rules to abide by in order to have your case heard. Making one simple error could lead to a key piece of evidence not being allowed, costing you your case.  
  • Little ability to do investigation. Many lawyers have full teams that are dedicated to doing investigations, often seeking out experts to help bolster your case. Doing this level of investigation would encompass the work of a full-time job or more, which may be impossible to do on your own.
  • Difficulty in determining value of your case. Calculating the value of an injury is a science and art. Without a lawyer’s expert counsel, you may end up settling for far less than your case is worth and losing money that you deserve.

Case study: pro se representation

We recently had a case where a defendant should have hired an attorney. This was a situation where a worker (independent contractor) decided he didn’t want to work for a farm business anymore. He was upset about additional pay he thought he should have been paid. He also had been using a vehicle owned by the farm business and kept it with him when he left the business.

Our office represented the business in suing the disgruntled worker to force him to return our client’s property.  But the worker insisted he was owed money for the time he worked for the business, and he would happily turn over the vehicle if he was paid what he claimed was due. However, the worker didn’t know how to assert a claim for unpaid work.

The farm business sued the worker for the lost use of the vehicle which amounted to several thousand dollars and for the return of the property.  When we arrived at court, we tried to negotiate with the worker, telling him that we would charge him no money at all if he willingly turned over the vehicle. The business even offered him $500 to turn over the vehicle. BUT HE REFUSED EVERYTHING!

The worker showed up without an attorney. When we began the trial, the worker tried and tried to present evidence of unpaid work, but it wasn’t allowed. It wasn’t allowed because the worker didn’t know what documents to file for the hearing. Time and time again, the worker was told by the judge that he could not make those claims in this case.

At the end of the trial, our client was awarded everything they requested. The vehicle was ordered to be returned (it was returned within a week) and they were awarded over $5,000 for the lost use of the vehicle.

Don’t settle for pro se representation. Let us help.

Contact Pettit Law Office and receive the personal legal service your case deserves.

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