Many people choose to have lawyers represent them in court. This is because lawyers are experts in the field of law and usually have years of legal education and training. If a person is arrested and charged with a crime, it's their right have a lawyer appointed to them by the court, even if they cannot afford one.
However, despite the frequent use of lawyers, and the easy availability of them for criminal cases, some people still choose to defend themselves in both civil and criminal cases. When a person chooses to represent themselves in a case, it's called appearing “pro se,” which is a Latin phrase that means “for oneself.” If you are planning to appear pro se, there are several things that you should know:
1. It is free.
This is significant, because unless you're using a court-appointed lawyer, attorney fees can be extremely expensive. Many attorneys even charge hundreds of dollars per hour. So, if your goal is to save money, then representing yourself is the best way to go.
2. You'll probably have to file an appearance form.
An appearance form is a document that enables you to provide all of your contact information to the courts. On this form, you will also let the court know that you will be representing yourself. You will have to file this form with the office of the court clerk. Once the court has this file, they will contact you with any necessary information regarding your case.
3. You'll be subject to the same rules & guidelines as attorneys.
This means that you cannot do things such as tamper with the evidence or ask leading questions in certain circumstances. It also means that you'll have to follow the rules of the court and participate in the trials, hearings, etc. according to the normal guidelines that lawyers would normally have to follow. The benefit to this is that if you are representing yourself, then you will also have the powers that lawyers normally have, such as the power to make objections.
4. You'll have to structure your own argument.
Whether you'll be representing yourself in a civil or criminal case, you'll have to structure your own argument. This means that you will have to find evidence that supports your own case, call your own witnesses, and cross-examine the opposing counsel’s witnesses. If you hope to win your case, your efforts in all three of these areas must all help to prove that your argument is sound and true.
5. You can get help without having an attorney represent you.
For example, the courthouse law librarians can help you to look up certain laws or court cases that may be relevant to your case. Such resources can be very important because they can help you to prove your point during a trial.
Alternatively, if you do not want to hire an attorney to represent you, you can hire one as a consultant instead. This will enable you to obtain some useful legal advice without having to spend anywhere near as much money on attorney fees. Consulting an attorney can take just one or two hours. However, having an attorney fully represent you can take dozens or even hundreds of hours. The difference between these two options could translate to tens of thousands of dollars.
The Price of Pro Se Representation
Representing yourself in court can be a significant challenge. After all, you'll most likely be facing the adverse party's attorney in the trial, and most attorneys are very well-trained in the law. However, there are definitely financial benefits to representing yourself if you feel that you are up for the challenge.
The best cases in which to represent yourself are most likely civil suits where only a small amount of damages is at stake (e.g., less than $10,000). The consequences in such cases are significantly less severe if you were to fail to win your trial. However, representing yourself in criminal trials is quite risky and often unnecessary, because the court will appoint you an attorney.