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Why You Should Hire a Lawyer Instead of Representing Yourself in Court

Posted by Dragan Dan Ivetić | Oct 24, 2022 | 0 Comments

In front of Judges in Court.
Do you really need a Lawyer?

Very often people will ask me "Do I really need a Lawyer?" In the modern era, where online services like "Google" and a host of others are readily available to everyone, it seems like people are more prone than before to take a shot at a "Do it Yourself" solution to everything, including their legal problems (or even worse, using a non-lawyer to give legal advice). This blog post will address this question, with the aim of illustrating why that is not the best option for most instances.

In the United States of America, it is true that there are only 2 valid options for legal representation in a court of law.

  1. Self-Representation (also called Pro Se) [a bad idea even if you are trained as a lawyer yourself!]

  2. Representation by a licensed lawyer in good standing (either chosen by you or provided on your behalf by Court Order, Insurance, etc.)

There are 2 caveats to #1 above that need to be clarified, given two scenarios that are prevalent and which demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the law as to that "right" to represent oneself.

First, is the party being "represented" in court a corporation? If so, then you really only have one option available, namely #2, above. The Illinois Supreme Court Rules, for instance, provide that a CORPORATION may not appear as a plaintiff without an attorney, but may appear as a defendant through an officer, director, manager, or supervisor. Corporate officers should consult with their lawyers regarding the interpretation of this rule.

Second, it must be understood that only you, the party, can represent yourself, no non-lawyer third party can represent you or give legal advice. Indeed, it is the law that only lawyers can go to court on behalf of someone else, not non-lawyers. The Illinois Attorney Act says: “No person shall be permitted to practice as an attorney or counselor at law within this State without having previously obtained a license for that purpose from the Supreme Court of this State.”

Now, assuming that you have not run afoul of either of the two hurdles discussed above, you may feel confident in your abilities to represent yourself. Here is why this is usually a bad idea, especially for non-lawyers. Let's take the federal court as an example to help illustrate this. Statistically, the vast majority of Pro Se (self-representation) cases are not successful. The numbers don't lie. Your odds of prevailing Pro Se are likely closer to winning the lottery than " 50-50". While the US Supreme Court has (in the past) ruled that legal filings of Pro Se parties should be “construed liberally” [ see Erickson v Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Sause v. Bauer, 138 S. Ct. 2561, 2563 (2018) (per curiam) (holding that “[i]n considering the defendants' motion to dismiss, the District Court was required to interpret the pro se complaint liberally”)], federal courts routinely have held that district courts “do not need to provide detailed guidance to pro se litigants” because liberal treatment “does not constitute a license for a plaintiff filing pro se to ignore the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” [See Moore v. Agency for Int'l Dev., 994 F.2d 874, 876 (D.C. Cir. 1993); Green v. McKaskle, 788 F.2d 1116, 1119-20 (5th Cir. 1986) (stating frivolous pro se litigation wastes judicial resources and impairs the chance of success of meritorious claims); McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993) (claiming that “we have never suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel”)].

So, while proceeding Pro Se is indeed an option to consider it likely would not be the best option. You are expected to know the law and procedure and Judges will hold you strictly to task on them. The judges may not even be able to assist you.

Many jurisdictions follow similar reasoning to the Federal caselaw above as not mandating judicial assistance to a self-represented litigant (indeed Illinois does).

Now a practical illustration. The best practices accepted in the legal community state that even a lawyer should hire another lawyer for a legal matter where they are the party/client. The well-known and oft-quoted adage says "The lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client." So, if a lawyer, who has spent so many years in school learning the law, and even more years out of school perfecting their knowledge and practice of the law in the real world is not advised to act as their own lawyer ... why would anyone without a law degree think they can do better?

If you have a legal issue, it likely is about something very important to you. If your legal case involves a risk of losing your freedom or losing something you hold dear (i.e. risk of unacceptable economic losses or loss of rights), you need a lawyer.

If you fall in the “don't need a lawyer” category, you still should at least consult with a lawyer, and if at all possible are still recommended to use a lawyer. (Unless pursuing a frivolous case, as no lawyer can assist you and you should be dissuaded from pursuing your frivolous endeavor)

My office provides free initial consultations of up to 30 minutes for potential clients to see if we can offer them assistance on legal matters of all types. Given such a valuable opportunity, why would you want to trust your "Google" skills to represent yourself?

Contact us for Consultation!

About the Author

Dragan Dan Ivetić

DRAGAN DAN IVETIĆ was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, and wanted to become an attorney to help people from a young age.  He received a bachelor's d...


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