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I Can’t Afford a Lawyer: The Pitfalls of Representing Yourself


By: Janice Dantes


The biggest objection clients have to hiring our services is that it is too expensive and they believe they cannot afford a lawyer. So instead, they decide to do their divorce or other legal matter on their own with no lawyer. I have one message for clients who choose to represent themselves: “YOU CANNOT AFFORD NOT TO HAVE A LAWYER.” I have had people represent themselves in their divorce only to have issues later which are much more expensive to fix, if they can fix them at all. I have also had clients do their own real estate deals either with a handshake or a contract written on a napkin and have had to pay significant legal fees to avoid mortgage fraud and determine the rightful owner of properties. If you want to “tipid,” do not “tipid” on your lawyer. Below are the pitfalls of representing yourself.

1. The Judge and Court Clerks Will Be Mean to You. The courts do not like it when clients choose to represent themselves. You will experience firsthand how difficult the judge and court clerks will be to you. They are not allowed to give you legal advice. Therefore, you are expected to represent yourself as if you were a lawyer. If you ask questions about where to file a document, how to access a document, or even what your next step is, do not be surprised if they are rude to you. Also, do not be surprised to wait a long time to be serviced. They usually assist lawyers or the law firm staff members they know first before they help self-represented litigants. Be prepared for the verbal abuse and a lot of time wasted.

2. You Do Not Know the Law and How the Legal System Works. Google is not a replacement for a lawyer. I have had self-represented litigants rely too much on Google, what their friend’s sister’s, co-worker’s experience was, and the opposing party’s lawyer to help them. TRUST YOUR OPPONENT’S LAWYER AT YOUR OWN RISK. It is not the responsibility of your opponent’s lawyer to look out for you or tell you your next court date. Also, if they present you with documents, it is your responsibility to read them and determine for yourself if you believe they are fair. Just because your opponent’s lawyer is telling you to sign something to end the case does not necessarily mean that the terms were a mutual win-win. Also, I see self-represented litigants spend time filing motions only to have them stricken because of some procedural issue or have a judge rule against them because they did not know how to properly address an issue brought by opposing counsel. The outcomes of the case can affect the trajectory of your life. View hiring a lawyer not as an expense but as an investment in your future.

3. You Could Pay Even Larger Legal Fees in the Future. I have seen so many people represent themselves in a divorce, choose not to do any estate planning, and handle their own real estate deals without lawyers. Then there is a problem. For example in real estate, you decide to buy a house with your friend to hold the mortgage for you because you do not have credit, then either they stop paying the mortgage or want to sell the house. You think that you are healthy and you can wait to do your will and power of attorney, then you are in a car accident and your children are fighting over how to deal with your care. Last, you and your ex decide to do you divorce without lawyers and decide to continue living together. He finds out about your new boyfriend and kicks you out. These are real stories that happen over and over and over again. A good lawyer will anticipate these issues and make sure they are addressed so you are not a repeat customer.

4. Great Lawyers Can Get Great Results. The O.J. Simpson trial was the first time I saw how experts in the legal profession can be called a dream team. Find a lawyer or lawyers you can trust to help you with your legal matter. Do not try to find the cheapest lawyer. In our firm, we have had people divorced in one month. We have had judges reconsider prior rulings. We have had our motions to dismiss granted. We have filed successful appeals. We have helped many people in car accidents receive the funds they deserve. We can help you get great results. Do not “tipid” on great legal services.

If you would like to discuss your options in your legal matter, please call (312) 546-5077 or email janice@pinaylaw.com.

Thank you for reading. Until we meet again, love one another.

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