Family Law is probably one of the many practice areas where most people feel that they can represent themselves because the issues and topics seem pretty simple. Divorce, child support, custody, visitation, and even domestic violence. These topics alone seem pretty straight forward, until you get hit with legal documents, subpoenas, affidavits, mediation, depositions, hearings, trials, statutes, procedural requirements, courtroom etiquette, and worst of all – attorney’s representing your opposing party, who was clever enough to hire or consult with an attorney. And it is then that you realize, I should have hired an attorney.
In most cases, people will try to represent themselves and manage their own case in the very beginning, because they feel that no one knows their case better than they do. They may also feel that no one will work as hard as they will to get the result that they want. Although this may seem to be true in many respects, the saying goes, “He who represents himself, has a fool for a client… or a judge in their pocket.” In regards to Family Law, this is undoubtedly the most fitting statement of a client who is emotionally attached to their own case and can only see the case from one point of view – which is “what is right and wrong in their own eyes”. So, let’s get to it. Why do you need a family law attorney, when you can represent yourself pro se?
Expertise, Experience, and Excellence
First, let’s discuss expertise. Expertise is how knowledgeable are you about a given topic. Just as you know your own case like the back of your hand, Family Law attorneys know family law like the back of their hand. You’re an expert in case facts and they’re an expert in case law. They know statutes, case law, court rules, court procedures, document requirements, legal jargon, and many other legal concerns that would benefit you. For example, we recently worked on a case in which the client was accused of being in contempt and the pro se litigant came to court with so much good evidence. However, the pro se litigant did not have an attorney or any expertise to know how to present and submit their evidence, thus all of their “extremely good evidence” was excluded from being considered and we won our contempt case. Our client did not go to jail because he had an attorney who was an expert in court room procedures and the rules of evidence, which we used to fight against the pro se litigant’s extremely good evidence, but lack of expertise. It became a slam dunk case! So, if you go into court and think that the judge or staff will help you litigate your case, you’re sadly mistaken. They will let you know when to speak, but will not tell you what to say. If that was the case, everyone would be pro se and use the judge as a crutch. Judge’s aren’t and don’t like to be crutches.
Now let’s talk experience, which is how have you utilized what you know. You may be experiencing this issue for the first or maybe fifth time, so of course you are passionate or connected emotionally to your case in one way or another. If it’s your first time, then an experienced attorney who has dealt with cases similar to yours, can make your first time feel like a smooth ride. If it’s your fifth time, it’s even more reason to hire an attorney because your tension and trust levels are higher and can interfere with your reasoning, thought process, and reactions inside and outside of court. It’s probably harder for you to trust because you may have been mistreated before, but that’s why consultations are important. Client consultations allow you to get a feel for the attorney before you hire them to help you. If there’s not a good connection or vibe, then that may be a determining factor for you.
However, also take into consideration attorneys who have practiced in the same court room, in front of the same judge, on the same or similar family law cases for years and years. They know what the judge is looking for in documents, they know how the judge usually rules, what the judge takes into consideration, and other facts of which a pro se litigant entering the court for the first time may be totally clueless. Many may think this type of relationship between an attorney and judge is biased, but it’s pretty much the equivalent of a good student and a good teacher. Students who build a good relationship with their teachers do not automatically get good grades, because a wrong answer is still a wrong answer. But what it means is that usually, students who like their teachers and are interested in the subject matter, tend to do well in that class because they want to impress the teacher and they work hard to get better and better at accomplishing that goal. They work smarter and learn more about how to maintain a good grade or gain extra credit. They become experienced in implementing what they’ve learned.
Finally, let’s discuss excellence, which is excelling at what you do because you want to build a reputation as being an expert and experienced attorney. You may think that you are going to work harder on your case, because it is your case. But an attorney is definitely going to put in more hours and lose sleep to not just win your case for you, but to encourage others with similar cases to seek their help. The best marketing tool for them is “word of mouth” and by showing what you have done for others. You have to be excellent in everything that you do in order to earn other’s trust and be known as a reputable attorney. As the saying goes, “People may forget what you said, or maybe even what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Judges, clients, and other attorney’s immediately feel a certain way when they see an attorney that has excelled in their representation of their client versus when they see one that has mistreated their client. At the end of the day, you need to do what is best for you and your family. But is always better to be safe, than sorry.
Anything worth having is worth fighting for, so if you want a fair fight, hire an attorney that specializes in Family Law. Don’t put a price tag on your peace of mind.