When a legal matter arises, most people seek legal representation from a licensed attorney well- versed in the area of law that addresses their problem. But there are no laws against pursuing a matter without an attorney, and not all matters require professional guidance. Here are five reasons you may not even need an attorney:
- You Proceed Pro Per or Pro Se. These latin terms mean that one is advocating on one’s own behalf before a court, rather than being represented by a lawyer. If you feel confident that you can educate yourself about the relevant area of law that concerns you, then you could represent yourself in either civil or criminal court. When proceeding “pro se”, you will be held accountable for adhering to the court procedures and decorum in the applicable jurisdiction. Your tasks will include conducting proper legal analysis, preparing and writing proper legal pleadings and conducting the legal research and discovery necessary to prevail in your matter. You will still be responsible for filing fees, disposition fees, and other items related to handling your matter. If you are not sure what “discovery” involves…look it up! There’s no better time to start your pro se status than the present.
- You Hire a Paralegal. A paralegal is a good person to seek help from if you have a matter that requires a lot of standard forms to complete. For instance, in a bankruptcy or a probate matter, the paralegal is limited to advising their client with filling in the answers to the legal questionnaires. A paralegal is similar to a physician assistant for a doctor. They are trained professionals who are legally limited to perform certain tasks. Like a real estate agent, or financial adviser, a paralegal cannot provide legal advice and can lose their license if they do so.
- Your Matter Could be Heard in Small Claims Court. In a small claims matter, only the actual parties can represent themselves in civil matters. In most jurisdictions, the amount of the controversy is limited and ranges from $2,500 to $5,000 dollars. If you have seen Judge Judy, Okra, Kevin, or Evelyn on T.V., then you already have an idea of the less formal and more simple procedures found in a small claims court, with hopefully much less drama. But the small claims court is a great venue for people to seek redress and receive a binding judgment. When considering the costs and benefits of using an attorney, sometimes it’s best to pursue the maximum amount in a small claims action, even if it doesn’t satisfy the total balance of the amount disputed.
- You Consider Mediation. There is a recent trend in the law known as “alternative dispute resolution”. In an attempt to save on costly litigation, lay people and companies will often go to one attorney for assistance, even though the parties may have opposing interests. While an attorney can represent both sides with proper written disclosures, the parties that I have known to use one attorney, leave unhappy. A more cost-effective alternative is to use a trained mediator. A mediator is usually an attorney who is well versed in the law. They are supposed to be impartial, and depending on what the parties to mediation agree, the mediators opinion can be binding. Even if the parties choose not to have a binding decision, a mediator’s analysis is often a good indication of what outcome one can expect in a court of law.
- You Have Time and Fortitude. Pursuing or defending a legal matter can be exhausting, both financially and emotionally, and this is usually when one retains an attorney. So consider the best use of your time. Could you be earning more investing your time into your own work instead of taking on larger and less familiar tasks? Do you have the emotional fortitude to withstand professional assaults on the integrity of your position? If you have the time and an iron stomach, then you should consider pursuing your own claim.
Having an attorney is similar to hiring a real estate agent. In a real estate deal, one can sell their own home and save substantially on a sales commission. But the benefit of having a real estate agent is more than just about commission or having someone sticking a sign on your lawn or placing a lock-box on your door. A good agent performs so many administrative tasks behind the scenes. But most importantly, the agent acts as a professional buffer between a buyer and a seller. Not everyone has the emotional constitution to deal with criticism or unhappiness surrounding the sale or purchase of a home. The real estate agent takes on the burden of softening the emotional blows and focusing on all the “working parts” needed to move a deal forward. That is what an attorney does for their clients, but on a higher level of the risk-reward equation.
Conclusion. There are times when using an attorney may not be necessary. But try not to cite “money” as the reason to forgo proper legal representation since there are different types of affordable fee arrangements that attorneys can structure for clients. If you are ever in doubt of your legal rights, absolutely only a licensed attorney (practicing in the area of law that concerns you) can advise you of your legal rights and remedies. Attorneys, like most professionals, can briefly give you time to discuss and assess your matter and advise you accordingly. Only then should the options enumerated above be considered.
About the Author: Since 1990, David Soble has represented lenders, loan servicers, consumers and business owners on residential and commercial real estate, finance and compliance issues. He has been involved in thousands of real estate transactions, being responsible for billions in real estate loan portfolios throughout his career.
Disclaimer: You should not rely or act upon the contents of this article without seeking advice from your own attorney.