Friday, January 6, 2012

Pro Se

In just about every area of law, there are people that chose to represent themselves instead of hiring an attorney.  I normally don't have a problem with that.  If it works, that's something to be proud of.  If it doesn't, well... it can be bad.  Very bad.

The best advice I can give is to get an attorney if at all possible.  However, if you ever decide to represent yourself in your own legal matter, here are some tips.

1. Know your stuff better than the other side.  I just don't mean know your facts.  You must know the law as it relates to your facts.  It doesn't matter if you think the facts are on your side.  If the other side proves they have the law on their side, facts won't matter.

2.  Lose the emotion.  No one cares.  No, really.  Falling apart or giving in to your emotions will only make you lose credibility.  Not fair, I know, but still true.

3.  Be organized.  Present your case in an organized manner.  Have an outline of what you want to present, sticking to the key points in your case.  If you start chasing rabbits, the judge may decline to follow you.  If you're lucky, the opposing party may just hope you keep talking and trip yourself up.  By the time you bring your presentation back on track, the judge may have already decided.  Worse still, the judge may interrupt, assuming you have nothing else to say.

4.  Be respectful.  For the judge, it's not personal.  Don't make it that way.  Don't be overly familiar with the judge, joking like you're best friends.  On the other hand, don't attack the judge because you think he or she is "in with the man."  You don't win by belittling the other side or the judge.

5.  Know when to shut up.  I have won more close cases by keeping my mouth shut than I have with some dramatic surprise.  Come to think of it, I haven't won any case with a sudden dramatic TV lawyer moment.  Don't interrupt the judge or the opposing party.  Present your case, present your argument, and know enough about the process to know when to stop.

6.  Be focused.  Stick to your situation.  If you're arguing a speeding ticket, it's no defense to claim that everyone else was also speeding.  The judge won't care and you are just admitting that you were speeding, which is the accusation anyway.

7.  Dress professionally.  Yes, I know.  You don't judge a book by its cover.  Whatever.  Dress like a professional so you will be treated as one.  If you come in dressed as a hoodlum, you will be treated as such.


ArmedBarrister said...

It's sad, but many attorneys could benefit from reading these tips, too. For myself, I'm a HUGE fan of #5. It always amazes me how often other people will do my job for me; all I have to do is keep my and my client's mouths shut.

Hope things are well.

Auntie J said...

When we (finally) made it to court for our hearing, after spending all day there, our lawyer finished up with presenting our case, and the judge turned to my brother and his estranged wife (both pro se) and asked if they had anything further to add. Neither did.

Our attorney stood up to make her closing arguments, and the judge asked the court reporter to turn around. Our attorney promptly sat back down. I whispered a question about whether or not she was offering closing arguments, and her response was that it was clear that the judge had made up her mind, and so she wasn't going to mess with that by opening her mouth further. I am proud to say I had the presence of mind to follow my lawyer's lead.

We won the case.

I'm sure not because we heeded #5, but on the merits of the evidence, but's good to see that our lawyer is as smart as we thought she is, and definitely worth every penny.

WR Olsen said...

I'd appreciate your permission to use your words as part of a small claims procedural brochure we are considering.
Of course attribution will be made if you approve.

Lawyer said...

ArmedBarrister: You know, now that you mentioned it, I know a colleague or two that could use some of that advice.

Auntie J: Absolutely. Knowing when to stop shows that your attorney had a good grasp of the case, and wasn't just there to hear herself speak.

WR Olsen: Sure! I'm flattered!