The Two Most Important Parts of Representing Yourself in a Case
When I was first approached about writing the Guerrilla Guides to the Law, we made the decision that they were going to be dedicated to one topic each, there would be no specific length of book or word count required, and there would be no "fluff", the books would contain the information needed for that topic but no filler material designed to drive up the length or the cost of the books.
This decision was made because the pro se litigant, a person who represents themselves in legal matters, isn't billing by the hour and likely has a full time job as well as other obligations to family and friends. What they don't have is a lot of extra time.
The lack of time and lack of professional training can put them at a tremendous disadvantage, which bring me to the topic for today.
I am looking over an old case right now to possibly write a book about it and it struck me that what I am doing to prepare for the book is really not that much different than what I did when I was getting ready for a trial. I'm not filing any motions or pleadings of course, but I am looking over what was provided in response to the filings. I am going over them, literally, word by word. So far I have looked at around 8000 pages of documents with more to go. I was at a desk with the case files spread out and someone mentioned they were glad they didn't have to go through all of those records and it reminded me of a case of alleged child abuse I once co-counseled on where there were over 50,000 pages of medical and state records. I went over those records five times and by the second day of trial our opponents were reeling because every time their witnesses would make a damning statement about our client, I would be able to reach into the boxes and pull out one of their records that said something different. By the end of that day they would agree with anything we said for fear of us having something where they had said the opposite.
That wasn't because I was brilliant but because, back then, I was a young lawyer and didn't know any other way to do it. The boss had told me to be sure and go through the records completely and be totally familiar with them and I assumed I was to do just that.
It was an extremely important lesson for me because we won that case due to two things:knowledge and preparation.
A person knows that they are finished preparing for trial when the trial is over. Until then, there is always something to do, even if it is just reviewing the documents one more time. Always read every word, of every page, of every file, without fail, and do it repeatedly.
Also, a pro se party who has not been to law school and practiced law can't rely on what they already know. Often, the law makes no sense to someone that doesn't understand the theory behind it, so that person can't argue what the law should be. They have to know what the law is!
They have to have done their discovery, legal research, and be prepared for evidentiary issues. Luckily, we do provide the Guerrilla Guides to the Law for these and many other topics, with even more on the way!
However, none of the self help law books you can buy are dedicated to your facts so you must, must, MUST, understand how and why things work the way they do. Once you understand that, and our books explain the theory in easily understood language, you can then take the topics and apply them to the facts of your case.
This can level the playing field of the courtroom even if you are up against a lawyer.
Don't forget, the most important parts of your case are KNOWLEDGE and PREPARATION!
If the case is worth doing, it's worth doing right!