Do I Need to Hire an Attorney, or Can I Represent Myself in Court?

Self-representation or pro se representation is an uncommon choice, but it can potentially work for some individuals. Pro se representation essentially requires an individual to assume the role of his or her own legal counsel. Unless such an individual has some background in law, pro se litigation can involve very intensive research and significant personal expense, but the individual can spare the expense of legal fees.

Why Choose Pro Se Representation?

The main reason to choose self-representation is to save money on legal fees. Hiring an attorney can be incredibly expensive. Even a personal injury attorney who offers contingency fee billing may take a sizeable chunk from a cash settlement or jury award. It is very important for an individual considering self-representation to weigh the potential benefits of hiring an attorney against the projected cost of legal fees.

For example, if hiring an attorney for a $1,000 claim would require signing on to a 30% contingency fee and the attorney handles the case with just a few phone calls, the client essentially pays 30% of his or her case award for very minimal work. However, if the client does not have any legal training, is dealing with severe injuries, or faces other complicating factors like work and family obligations that prevent devoting time to the case study, hiring an attorney is likely the better option.

Tips for Handling Pro Se Representation

If you feel confident in your ability to handle the intense research and strict court filing requirements, you may be able to handle a personal injury claim on your own. You may also find yourself in a situation where you require a defense attorney, and pro se representation is also possible on the defense. However, this is extremely risky as state prosecutors pursue criminal convictions very aggressively and the average person with no legal experience could easily wind up with a harsher sentence than a private defense attorney or even a public defender could have managed.

  • Only choose self-representation if your case involves a small number of damages. If your case is worth more than a few thousand dollars, it is probably worth investing in hiring an attorney to ensure you receive the most compensation possible.
  • Conduct thorough research into past rulings in similar cases. Most civil court proceedings become public record, and you will likely need to cite past cases involving similar situations to create a legal foundation on which to argue your case.
  • Prepare to invest time, money, and effort. If you are already financially struggling due to a personal injury or another legal issue, remember that pro se litigation will take longer than if you hired an attorney to represent you.
  • Research your local courthouse. Find out where your case will take place and research the court system. Find out when you need to file the required paperwork and never miss a deadline; doing so could easily cause a judge to throw out your case.
  • Prepare to represent yourself in the trial. You cannot ask yourself questions in court as your attorney would, so self-representing individuals typically rely on strong opening statements to represent their cases in court. You should also prepare accordingly to answer the defense’s questions.
  • Know your rights. You have the right to legal counsel, and if you choose pro se representation but feel overwhelmed, it may be worth hiring an attorney to take over your case.

Ultimately, choosing self-representation can be a wise choice for a relatively small claim with minimal need to research, especially if the defendant is clearly liable. However, individuals facing criminal charges or significant damages in their civil claims must acknowledge that an attorney can usually provide a much better level of legal representation than an individual can manage pro se.