Dealing With Lawyers FAQ
My opponent hired a lawyer, does that mean I need to?
Not at all. You don't have to be a lawyer when dealing with a lawyer. If you are an organized person with a good case and some spare time, there is no reason you need to hire a lawyer to speak to another lawyer.
Your key considerations should be time and money. Lawyers charge in the hundreds of dollars per hour, and not just for doing substantive legal work. Phone calls, travel time, even time spent sitting at court waiting can be charged for, and the bill can add up very quickly. Consider the amount of your dispute and whether employing a lawyer makes sense fiscally. Then consider the time investment you'll have to make if you do it yourself and weigh the pros and cons.
Even if I represent myself, are there times I should consider getting advice from a lawyer?
Yes. Even if you go it alone, you should strongly consider consulting a lawyer when you are asked to sign an agreement, settlement or something similar. The opposing lawyer may try to use legalese and confusing terms to get you to sign something that is not to your benefit. Even if you have done the rest of the work yourself, it's important to get a trained legal profession to read through any sort of agreement. That way, you'll only be paying the lawyer for the critical work that you cannot do yourself.
Where can I learn about representing myself?
FindLaw has an extensive series of articles on self-representation, so read through those guides to get started. In addition to FindLaw's self-help guides, your two best sources are libraries and, to a limited extent, the court clerk.
Libraries will have self-help guides, court procedures and a host of other legal resources. Court clerks can be helpful in terms of local court requirements, forms and procedures, but keep in mind that clerks cannot give you legal advice or help. They can, however, help you figure out what forms you need to fill out and what documents you need to file.
How should I negotiate with the opposing lawyer?
Don't let the fact that the person you're dealing with is a lawyer scare you.Most lawyers have had little if any formal negotiating training, and simply rely on their own personal style and experience.
The best approach when negotiating with a lawyer is to be professional and polite, yet insist on your rights or your position. Many lawyers tend to "act in kind," and will meet civility with civility, realizing that more can get done by being polite than by being confrontational. If you are confrontational, however, expect the lawyer to fight.
I'm having problems with the opposing lawyer, what should I do?
Some lawyers will try to overwhelm you or impress you with theatrics and grandstanding, but don't let it get to you. If the lawyer is being aggressive and overly demanding, politely ask them to tone it down so that negotiations can proceed. If the lawyer is still overly aggressive and you've made reasonable efforts to get along, consider scheduling a meeting with the judge to discuss the issue. This alone may get the lawyers attention. Regardless, do make an effort to reach out to the opposing lawyer before running to the judge, because judges can be extremely unforgiving if they feel you are wasting their time without making a reasonable effort to resolve differences.
What kind of things will I be responsible for if I represent myself?
There's a lot of paperwork involved with legal representation, so be prepared to write a lot of letters, fill out forms and file a lot of documents. In particular, less scrupulous lawyers may try to flood you with paperwork to make you cry uncle.
The other major area to be concerned about is deadlines. There are deadlines for everything, so make sure to stay on top of them or an opposing lawyer will make you pay. Missing deadlines can not only reduce your chances of success, but bar you outright from having your day in court.