Judges see a number of people who come to court “pro se.” Pro se means without an attorney. Judges hear some interesting reasons as to why people aren’t represented by lawyers: “I’ve seen it on TV,” or “My cousin did his own case and did fine,” or “How hard could it be?”
The main reason given is that it can be quite expensive to hire a lawyer. Is it worth spending money to hire a lawyer to represent you?
Lawyers are highly educated and trained professionals whose job it is to look out for the interests of their clients. In addition to completing college, lawyers also graduated from law school. Law school involves three years of intensive study. Before being allowed to practice, lawyers must also pass the bar exam. The bar exam takes two full days to complete. It tests a person’s knowledge in numerous areas of the law. It is such a difficult test that many lawyers have nightmares about it for years afterwards.
In addition to their formal training, lawyers gain a deeper understanding of the law as they handle cases. This knowledge is not just of the law itself, but also knowledge and experience with different courts, judges, types of cases, and different clients. They learn over time how to avoid areas of difficulty and how to resolve cases in ways that are favorable to their clients. They also understand the various Rules of Procedure that apply in court including the Rules of Evidence. Some lawyers limit their practices so that they become highly knowledgeable in specific areas.
Many times people think of lawyers as mere advocates. However, one of the most valuable services that a lawyer provides is as a detached and neutral counselor. Some people become so emotionally drawn into their case that they can’t see it clearly. A lawyer is able – through training and experience - to evaluate the matter and put it into perspective. They are able to see a bigger picture, and many times, suggest ways to resolve the dispute that a pro se person may not have even considered.
Lawyers do cost money. However, many also offer free initial consultations to discuss what the law is, what they can do to help, and what their fees would be.
Sometimes, pro se litigants become overwhelmed by the complicated rules and procedures of court and they ask the judge to help them with their case. However, in order to remain neutral, there is very little that a judge can do. They are not to help one side or the other. It would be a little like asking the referee in a basketball game to shoot free throws for the side that is not doing well.
Perhaps it is for all of these reasons that Abraham Lincoln is known to have remarked, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
Do you need a lawyer? Lawyers are not free but the counsel and service they provide can be invaluable.
Judge Galler is chambered in Washington County.