Abraham Lincoln once said, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” President Lincoln was an attorney first, and felt no one (including an attorney) should represent themselves in a court case. History tells us that Honest Abe didn’t originate this idea, which appeared in writings as early as 1814 by the lesser known Henry Kett.
The truth is, there are some limited circumstances in which representing yourself might not be catastrophic.
1. Minor traffic offenses;
2. First offense Class B or C misdemeanors that you know you are guilty of, and you just want to plead guilty or apply for a diversion program; and
3. Small claims or District Court civil cases where the amount in controversy is less than $10,000.
In all of the above circumstances, the cases are heard in District Court where the rules of evidence are relaxed and the judges are accustomed to working with those representing themselves “pro se”. In these types of cases, the stakes are usually very low and if you are not successful, you can probably live with the results, and you have saved money without hiring an attorney.
Even in cases where the outcome doesn’t really matter to you, you may be better off with an attorney because having an attorney could save you an enormous amount of time. Many court dockets have hundreds of cases set on the same day. Judges routinely handle cases that have an attorney first. We have seen instances where minor cases with an attorney are in and out of court in under 15 minutes, where someone with a similar case without an attorney may sit for up to 12 hours waiting their turn.
In all other cases, it is wise to hire professional representation. If you are convicted of a Class A misdemeanor or any Felony, jail is a real possibility. On top of jail, there are other consequences that a legal professional may be able to help you avoid, like loss of your driver’s license, and loss of your voting and firearms privileges.
There is a reason that law school lasts 3 years. There is a lot to learn, and if you haven’t been through it, you don’t know what you don’t know. Having witnessed many people represent themselves in Circuit Court over the years, it never goes well. They do not know the appropriate motions to file (despite what they read on Google), and never know how to properly object to inadmissible evidence. In truth, pro se litigants in serious cases are usually thought of as crazy or arrogant by court personnel.
If you simply can’t afford an attorney, you are still better off with the public defender. Public defenders get a bad rap and are in most cases decent attorneys. Often the complaints against public defenders are on issues that aren’t really their fault. Some complain that public defenders are inexperienced. That may be true, but they still have more experience than someone that has never practiced law. Public defenders are often overworked and are certainly underpaid, and they don’t have the time to dedicate to each case that they would like, yet they are still trained on how to try a case, and you likely are not.
Do yourself a favor, if you have a serious legal case, where the results matter and can afford an attorney, call a law firm with experience and a long history of success. Call our firm at 205-502-2000 today.