Hiring an Attorney Do I Need A Lawyer? Can I Handle It "Pro Se" or By Myself ?

  1. The decision to hire a lawyer can be expensive. But in some situations, you can make matters much worse if you try to do it yourself instead of using professional legal help. This article will help you identify those legal problems which you might be able to handle yourself from others where it would likely be better to hire an attorney.

    Pro Se - On Behalf of Themselves

    In the legal system you'll often hear the term "pro se" used to refer to a person who serves as their own lawyer in court. It is a Latin phrase that literally means "on behalf of themselves" - that the party in court is acting as their own legal counsel. It's probably more difficult for someone to act as their own attorney than they realize. For one, they are not experts in the law who handle cases routinely. A novice will be at a significant disadvantage in court, especially with regard to rules of procedure and legal research and writing. In addition, it is difficult to be purely objective about one's own case. Emotions run deep as the party - now also the attorney - is personally involved in the matters of the case. Decisions may be affected and negatively impacted. It should not a surprise why President Lincoln was quoted as saying “He who represents himself has a fool for a client."

    Small Claims Courts

    Deciding whether you should solve a legal problem by yourself will depend upon a number of factors. Some situations may indicate that hiring a lawyer is unnecessary. For example, legal disputes that are heard in small claims courts do not require a lawyer. The small claims court system is designed to help regular people settle disputes of smaller amounts of money without great expense and complicated legal argument. The judge or arbitrator is given great leeway to hear the parties explain their dispute with less legal formality.

    Small Amounts of Money and Minor Issues

    Another factor that will help you determine if you need a lawyer is the amount at stake in the matter. For small amounts of money, the cost of hiring a lawyer might outweigh the benefit of using professional legal help. But if there is a large amount of money at stake, it would seem foolish to take a risk of losing your case or creating a large problem. Some common “do it yourself” situations include:
    • Creating a simple will for a very small, simple estate and family
    • A promissory note for a small amount of money, such as $150
    • A simple services contract, such as being paid by the hour to proofread documents
    • Representing yourself with regard to a minor incident in a municipality that, at worst, may result in a small fine

    Don’t Do It Yourself: When You Should Hire a Lawyer

    There are many times where the money you might save by not hiring a lawyer is simply not worth the risk of losing your case. Before making any decision to handle a legal matter yourself, you should consider the following information.

    Legal Consultations

    If you have a serious or important issue, it is probably beneficial just to get a professional opinion. A lawyer can help you estimate the cost of legal assistance, determine whether a matter is worth pursuing and make an educated guess as to the likelihood of success of your case. You will probably get an explanation of the steps in the legal process and what you can do to protect your rights. With this knowledge, you can make an educated decision about whether it makes sense to hire an attorney and determine how much professional legal assistance you may need.

    Contingency Fee Arrangements

    In some instances, you may be able to get a free legal consultation from a lawyer to determine whether you have a case. In certain instances where there is a significant amount of money at stake, such being seriously injured in a car accident, you may be able to obtain the services of a lawyer without paying any up front legal fees. A lawyer may decide to take your case on a “contingency fee.” No legal fees are paid to the attorney unless you win your case. The legal fees are paid from the award of money damages that you receive. You are only responsible for the legal costs of the case, such as the cost of filing the lawsuit. The most common types of contingency fee cases involve personal injury, sexual harassment at your job, workplace discrimination, class actions and defective drugs. These types of lawsuits are usually complex. Winning a lawsuit will often require having one or more experience lawyers handling such a case.

    Criminal Matters

    In most criminal matters it is highly beneficial to be represented by a criminal defense lawyer. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. Your lawyer can speak to police and prosecutors on your behalf without any of his or her statements being attributed to you and used against you in a court of law. An experienced criminal defense lawyer will not only help you defend yourself effectively, but also may be better able to have your case dismissed or result in a good plea bargain. Handling a criminal case yourself could result in your having a criminal record. Even a misdemeanor can be a difficult burden to carry with you.

    Other Times to Consider Hiring a Lawyer

    The following are a few examples of more serious and complicated matters where you should consider hiring a lawyer instead of handling your case by yourself:
    • Complicated family issues such as child custody or divorce
    • Accidents which involve significant damage to property or personal injury
    • Trouble at work such as sexual harassment or discrimination
    • Buying or selling your home or a business
    • Getting your will done or setting up an estate plan or trust when you have a reasonably large estate and/or complicated family situation
    • Forming or incorporating your business
    • Problems with taxes
    • Most criminal charges, such as dealing with arrests or DUI / DWI and drug charges
    Lawsuits, Disputes:
    Legal Practice: Hiring an Attorney, Retainer Agreements

    Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler
    Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of TheLaw.com, A. Research Scholar at Columbia Business School and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at Zedge.net and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.


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