A Fool for a Client: The Risk of Representing Yourself in Court


a fool for a clientAs the old saying goes, “A lawyer who represents himself in court has a fool for a client.” We’ve all heard stories of high-profile criminal cases where the defendant decided to exercise his constitutional right to defend himself in court, almost always with bad results. Consider some of the more infamous cases of self-representation and how they ended: Fort Hood gunman Nidal Hisan (sentenced to death), DC Sniper John Allen Muhammed (sentenced to death), serial killer Ted Bundy (sentenced to death), and Charles Manson (sentenced to death, later commuted to life in prison).

Of course none of these people were exactly legal geniuses. They were homicidal maniacs of whom most people, upon finding out that they opted to represent themselves, would say, “Well of course these madmen are stupid and arrogant enough to think they can defend themselves. What idiots.”

At the same time, many ordinary people for some reason think it’s wise to represent themselves in court for other, lesser matters. A whole industry has been built on providing blank documents and legal forms, and promoting legal advice for people who intend to take a do-it-yourself approach to the law.

Unfortunately, what holds true for criminals also holds true for law-abiding citizens: it is rarely advisable to represent yourself in court.

While it is easy enough to look up the laws relevant to your circumstances and find legal forms that seem appropriate to your situation, spending an hour or two on Google and Wikipedia does not make you a lawyer. You may not understand all the terminology, procedures, evidentiary rules, legal standards, case laws, statutory laws, or other minutia of the legal profession. You likely have not been schooled in the laws of your particular jurisdiction, or understand the subtle ways that legal precedents may affect your case. You probably do not have experience conducting an interrogatory. It is even less likely that you know the judge, the opposing counsel, the court clerk, or other key individuals who may have a personal impact on your case.

Even if you are doing something relatively simple, like filing paperwork for a divorce, you can add months to the time until your case is settled, cost yourself much more money than you’d spend on legal representation, and even cause serious damage to your case if you do not follow the correct procedures. It’s also important to bear in mind that fill-in-the-blanks legal forms are notoriously incomplete and unspecific, and may not reflect the laws of your particular jurisdiction, often rendering them useless as legal documents. In a worse-case scenario, you may end up scuttling your own case.

Even if you are whole-heartedly determined to represent yourself, you can benefit from the advice of a legal professional, if only to consult about what to do when you face stumbling blocks, or to review your document filings to the court.  Before you proceed, take a half hour for a free consultation with our office. We are happy to advise you about your legal options and best practices, and even happier to take on the task of representing you in order to secure you the best possible outcome.

Call 856-227-7888 or contact us at [email protected] for a free consultation about your legal matter at one of our offices.


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The above is not specific legal advice nor does it create a lawyer-client relationship. Do not rely upon it without consulting an attorney to see how the information presented fits your unique circumstances.






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