Law Man
What's The Value Of An Attorney?
By Peter Schuman
Sep 1, 2001 - 8:46:00 AM

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UNITED STATES—
What's this? An attorney has value? As a human being or to help me with my case?

Do you know what in pro per means? Not improper like most of you think attorneys conduct their business, but in pro per. In pro per is Latin for self-legal representation. Most of you have heard the statement that any person who represents himself in a legal matter has a fool for a client. Yes, you'd be a bigger fool representing yourself than not hiring an attorney, though in some cases an attorney may make you feel like a fool because they are there to help you fix your problems.

You would be ill-advised to follow your own council. Perhaps you think you'd be cut some slack if you represented yourself; after all, you say to yourself, won't that look like I'm basically an honest, hard working person? No. Here's why:

  • The court system has no tolerance for your lack of knowledge surrounding court procedures and procedural requirements are often difficult.
  • The Court will speak in a language and jargon that serves as a means to confuse or exclude from the courts anyone who doesn't speak the language.
  • Judges and their courtroom personnel are often condescending to the in pro per litigant.
  • Court clerks will withhold information from non-lawyers information that they give to lawyers which can include case specifics.
  • Because non-lawyers are unfamiliar with court procedures, they tend to disrupt the flow of court administration.

Now that you have become the court jester, chances are you will not make points with the king (the judge) who wants to get done with his day, quickly.

Let me give you some specifics. Let's look at family law cases. Many people going through divorce think that as long as the other spouse is amicable, they can do a friendly, easy divorce. A friendly divorce is not the norm, and when there are financial assets or debts, or children involved, it can be no holds barred.

The initial process in a court action is the filing and the serving of the paperwork. Filling out paperwork correctly in a family law matter is very important. In one matter, a client failed to fill out the initial paperwork correctly and when I took over the case, I had to make a motion first to correct his initial paperwork and then file the correct paperwork. Because the client hadn't come to me from the beginning, the whole action cost more than if I had initiated the action in the first place. Moreover, his action was delayed four months because of his error. Time and money were lost!

In pro per representation can have serious financial repercussions. Most problems occur in in pro per cases because family law often involves monthly payments, either for spousal and/or child support, or both. In pro per litigants may find that they've filed after having done the calculations wrong. Some divorced people have found themselves saddled to a monthly payment that is outside their ability or financial means to pay. What you've filed may not be an accurate assessment of your financial responsibilities. So, you may find yourself having to take a second job. Not making a monthly payment can add up quickly, leaving you with large principle and interest amounts past due. Finally, another consequence to self-representation may cause you to have to pay attorney's fees for the opposing party/spouse.

Lack of professional representation in a bankruptcy action may cause a Chapter 7 bankruptcy to become a Chapter 13 bankruptcy (an immediate relief of all debts versus repayment of debts for three years leading to debt relief). Or, ultimately, in pro per representation can lead to the denial of the bankruptcy. Re-filing can cost you thousands and thousands of dollars more because having to hire an attorney after the fact, will mean the attorney may double his fees. This is because now the attorney has to correct your initial errors and then file the correct paperwork to prevent creditors from using your initial errors to stop your bankruptcy filing.

Self-representation can lead to many pitfalls. Remember this when you are struggling with the question of whether to hire an attorney. You can represent yourself in a legal matter, but that would be foolish. An attorney does have value, so hire an attorney before you cost yourself even more time and money.




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