3 Reasons Why You Should Not Represent Yourself in Court
by Alfred Norris
Could you represent yourself in court? Yes, of course. The law allows anyone to appear “pro se,” legalese for “on one’s behalf.” No attorney is necessary. But should you? The answer to that is a clear, resounding “NO!” from anyone you ask in the legal profession.
Why? I’ll give you three reasons.
#1. You probably don’t have the knowledge to represent yourself.
The law is complicated! Navigating a courtroom and the procedures within it is daunting, even for matters that seem very simple. Just because you have the ability to walk into a courtroom and represent yourself, doesn’t mean you are going to do it well.
The average person wouldn’t cut their own hair, fix a plumbing leak in their home, or perform their own surgery. They’d hire individuals specifically trained in those fields to do so – a hairstylist, plumber, or surgeon. The legal field is no different. If you want to ensure the best possible result, hire an experienced lawyer to advocate for you in court.
#2. Even if you have the legal knowledge (or think you do), you don’t have the experience.
Recently, I spoke with a woman who represented herself in a family law matter. She believed she didn’t need an attorney because she knew the law (and, admittedly she sounded like she knew quite a bit) and her case was complicated. In her opinion, she knew her case better than anyone, and no one would fight for her position as hard as she would. Unfortunately, she lost the case. Now, she wants to go back to court and try again. This time, however, she plans to do so with an attorney.
While you may know your case better than anyone, you probably aren’t the best advocate for your position in court. There are numerous reasons why.
In all likelihood: You haven’t appeared in court before. Even if you have, you will probably face an attorney on the opposing side – one who has the knowledge, training, and experience you lack. You don’t know that attorney, the clerk, or the bailiffs in the courtroom. You’ve never interviewed testifying witnesses, argued motions, or presented opening and closing arguments. You don’t know the rules of evidence or when to object to the admission of evidence and have never argued evidentiary objections with opposing counsel. The list could go on.
All of the above, and more, are necessary to present your case in the best possible light. It is very unlikely that you can do that on your own, without experience and legal training. Attorneys go through years of law school to advocate for others. For that reason, unlike you, your attorney DOES know all of the above. It is always best to have an attorney there to advise you. If you do, your case will have a much higher chance of success than you would otherwise have.
#3. Because my grandfather said so.
Growing up with a lawyer for a grandfather gave me some insight into legal issues starting at a young age. One of those issues is the very one we are currently discussing. After receiving one of a handful of speeding tickets I accumulated as a kid, I remember telling my grand-dad I could just take care of it myself. Meaning, I’d talk the judge myself and see if I could get it dismissed or reduced.
I remember my grand-dad’s response because it was a bit surprising to me. He said I should never represent myself. That if he had received something as simple as a traffic ticket, even he would not represent himself. He would hire an attorney. That surprised me because my he was in court every day. He handled speeding tickets regularly for other people. That was one of his specialties. Why would he hire an attorney? “Because there are just some things you should not do yourself,” he told me.
There are some things your attorney can say to the judge, or opposing counsel, which you cannot say yourself, or vice versa. You are too close to your case to be objective. You will be taken more seriously if you have someone there advocating for you who is trained to do so.
That was advice from someone with experience, who surely had my best interest in mind. And so I took it. I hired an attorney. The ticket was dismissed. And now I pass on the same advice, the same I would give any friend, family member, or client: hire an attorney.