Do you need an attorney in court, or can you do it yourself?

You have the right to represent yourself in court without the aid of an attorney. A person who goes to court without being represented by a lawyer is called “pro se” meaning “for oneself.” These days, there are a multitude of online resources, books, and self-help clinics intended to provide people with guidance and knowledge regarding their legal issues. But many people find that those tools are not tailored to their own facts and circumstances. In addition, laws and procedures vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction; rules that apply in New York may not apply in North Carolina. A pro se litigant is required to know and follow the court rules and the law of the jurisdiction in which the case sits. Judges are unable to advise a pro se litigant and will not often extend leniency to someone who has decided to represent himself. If a litigant misses deadlines or fails to file the proper documents with the court, the consequence could be fines, delays, or judgment in favor of the other party.

Attorneys use their experience and education to evaluate the facts of your specific case in light of the law that applies. They can advise as to what options are available, the risks and costs associated with the options, and help you to understand what to expect. A retained attorney will plan a legal strategy, perform legal research, interview witnesses, review financial records, prepare and file court documents, and negotiate with the opposing counsel/party.

If you are considering retaining an attorney to represent you, it is best to act sooner rather than later. Most lawyers will meet with a prospective client for an initial consultation at a discounted rate. You may want to ask a friend, relative, or co-worker to recommend a lawyer they know and trust. In addition, the local and state bar associations can help you find an attorney in your area.