This is a question I (Megan Card) am often asked by new clients in an initial consultation and my honest answer is “No, you don’t need a lawyer.” There are plenty of pro se (Latin “for oneself” or “on behalf of oneself”) litigants who choose to represent themselves in the court system. There are very helpful websites out there (WashingtonLawHelp.org is my favorite) that can assist a litigant in representing themselves. The courthouse also has pleading packets to purchase and courthouse facilitators available to review documents prior to filing.
That does not mean, however, that you should represent yourself or that it is in your best interests to do so. Can you represent yourself? Yes. Yet it may not be the smartest decision especially when considering what may be on the line. In divorce cases it could be the difference between hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets. In a parenting plan case, it could mean more or less time with your child. In a child support case, it may be the difference between hundreds of dollars each month in support. Is it worth hiring a lawyer? In most circumstances, yes.
Some pro se litigants are able to draft their own pleadings and articulate their argument to the judge. However, for the majority of litigants the pleadings are overwhelming, contain foreign legal jargon, and often don’t make sense which results in untimely filings. Each county has its own set of local rules and pro se litigants are held to the same standard as attorneys in expecting to know the court rules (for example, filing deadlines, page limits, font requirements, procedures for exhibits, etc.). Many litigants are also not comfortable with orally arguing their case in front of a judge and a packed courtroom.
Then, of course, add in the emotional aspects of your case and it makes it nearly impossible to adequately represent yourself. Law school taught me how to research legal issues, write legal arguments, and how to make a persuasive oral argument to the bench. While I care deeply about each of my clients, it is very important to me that I not get emotionally involved in their case. A good lawyer is one that can convey the facts of their client’s case without taking it personally as it makes an argument less effective to the court.
So do you need to hire a lawyer? No. But I think you will be happier, have less stress, feel like you got a fair shot, and likely obtain better results than if you chose to represent yourself. It is at least worth a consultation to see what an attorney can do for you. If you would like to meet with me, Megan Card, I offer 30 minute consultations for $100. Please contact my paralegal Amy at 360-866-4000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.