Let’s dive right into the question posed in the title. Ideally, you should not represent yourself in court. Think about it like this. Out of all the people in the world, lawyers are probably the most competent to represent themselves in court; after all, representing others in court is their job. But, most lawyers don’t choose to represent themselves.
One of the reasons lawyers opt not to represent themselves is objectivity. When you’re too emotionally invested in a case, it can be hard to take favourable deals; it’s your reputation and character on the line. The law, on the other hand, is often a game of compromises and reaching a deal before trial often leads to the best outcomes.
Questions about self-representation become more complex when you consider costs. We’re going to talk about two scenarios: self-representation in civil court and self-representation in criminal court. A quick note: self-representation is often referred to as pro se representation, so if you see that pop up when reading about self-representation, it’s the same thing.
Self-Representation In Civil Court
Civil proceedings are all about property rights: liability, payments for damages, ownership claims, and the like. You can go to court for a wide variety of reasons. You might do it to clear your name. You might do it to prove a point. You might do it because you feel it’s the right thing to do.
Most Of The Time, Though, Civil Proceedings Are About Money.
Someone thinks you owe them something or you think someone owes you something. The value of these considerations is going to be, in most cases, the primary factor that determines whether or not you need a lawyer representing you.
Stated another way, if you’re in small claims court over a $500 dollar dispute, it’s probably not going to be worth your time to hire a lawyer. Granted, without a lawyer your chances of winning will probably drop, especially if the other side has hired a lawyer. On the flipside, you can be all but certain that a lawyer’s time is going to be worth more than the $500 dollar dispute. You might opt to hire a lawyer anyway if the case is a matter of principle, but for matters of finance, small claims and lawyers don’t usually mix.
Following this logic, the larger your civil suit is, the more value you’ll find in hiring a lawyer. There are a number of different arrangements you might find with a particular attorney or law firm. In most cases, they’ll bill you hourly. You might also arrange for contingent fees – fees that are only payable if the outcome is in your favour. In such cases, the attorney will usually take a percentage of the total settlement.
Self-Representation In Criminal Court
When you’re faced with criminal charges, always hire a lawyer. You might be talking about fines or time behind bars – no matter what, criminal convictions come with a number of consequences. These consequences can make it difficult for you to find employment at best – life in prison at worst.
This means it’s not just a simple matter of money; what’s money compared to your freedom? What good will cash do you if you end up behind bars? How valuable will your money be if you can no longer drive a car to get to work? These are the types of life-altering, downright frightening considerations you may have to make if you’re facing criminal charges.
The criminal justice system is complex, and plea bargains are extremely common. Those who can’t afford lawyers can be assigned public defenders by the government. Public defenders, however, will often have their dockets very full; it’s not glamorous work. Many public defenders are incredibly skilled attorneys, but they’re generally under some pretty hefty time constraints. People who can afford to hire their own criminal attorney often benefit from doing so.
Even people who have a great mind for research should be strongly discouraged from representing themselves. You might think you have the whole puzzle sorted out, and that may be true. The question is: can you convince a jury? A judge? Can you recognize when a plea deal is in your best interest? Do you understand how to behave in court? How to sway a jury? An attorney’s job is multifaceted, and it’s extremely unlikely you’ll be able to pick up all the skills they’ve learned in years in a few weeks or months.
You might not be sure if you can afford a criminal lawyer; in such cases, you’d do well to see if any attorneys in your area offer free consultations. Consult with them about your case and inquire about their fees. Look at reviews from other clients they’ve had, and determine whether or not their services would be worth the cost to you. In a worst case scenario, you can always get a public defender.
You can have an attorney help you behind the scenes to prepare your case, even if you want to represent yourself at trial. While in best case scenarios, you’ll have representation at your trial, having an attorney as a consultant can save you money. This option is generally best saved for civil suits.
In some cases, you may be able to find an attorney who will work pro bono. That means they’ll waive their fees for your case. Don’t rely on this option, though; there’s a lot of people looking for pro bono representation, so it can be hard to find.
Brodsky, Amy & Gould, a law firm in Winnipeg, have some advice on criminal cases: You might be tempted to plead guilty if you feel they have evidence against you, or you might be tempted to represent yourself if you think there’s no strong case. You should always consult with a lawyer, however; criminal cases are complex, and what you think you know is likely not the end of the story. At the very least, get a consultation.