Can I Represent Myself in Court?

This is a hard question, but one I have heard a lot.

The answer is both yes, and possibly.

The yes answer is easy. In every type of case that I am aware of you are allowed to represent yourself. It would likely be unconstitutional for a court to require you to have a lawyer.

However, the possibly answer is really because the question isn’t specific. Some people represent themselves very capably and some can’t, so the question really should be “Should I represent myself?”

Representing yourself is called both appearing “pro se” and appearing “pro per” depending on the jurisdiction. Whether to do it or not is a huge decision to make.

In some case, there really is no decision because the funds just aren’t there to hire a lawyer. Sad but true. In a case like that then it is either do it yourself or don’t do anything at all.

However, if you can afford a lawyer and are thinking about representing yourself anyway there are a few things to consider:

1) Can you remove your emotions from the case completely and make rational decisions based solely on proper strategy?

If you can’t or if you are not 100% absolutely sure that you can step back from the situation then you shouldn’t be representing yourself. There is a reason that when lawyers get sued they hire a lawyer themselves.

2) Can you devote the time and energy to learning the basics of law, the lingo, legal research, and the rules of civil procedure and evidence?

Nothing marks a person who doesn’t know what they are doing more than using incorrect terminology. In addition, the ability to research (luckily, we have an ebook to help you with this) and knowing the rules is what separates good lawyers from bad ones. It will also separate a winning pro se from a losing one more times than not.

In addition, you get no special treatment because you are representing yourself. You are held to the same rules, knowledge, and standards as an attorney.

3) Can you devote the time and energy to preparing the case correctly?

A client once asked me why I charged so much for trials. While one of the answers that passed through my head was “because I’m worth it” instead I let them know that for every hour I spent in a trial I spent 20 or more outside of the trial preparing for it. If you don’t have at least an extra 40 hours to devote to preparing your case (if it is a one day trial) then you don’t need to be representing yourself.

4) Are you prepared to take a loss without whining?

If you lose the chances of a successful appeal are almost zero. The main reason is that you aren’t likely to understand evidence and how to “preserve error” well enough to be successful on appeal. I can say that with some confidence because most lawyers don’t even know how to do it.

My recommendation is always to hire a lawyer if you can afford one but if you can’t, knowledge is key. Read everything you can, make sure you understand it, and prepare, prepare, prepare. That will give you a shot at a win anyway.

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