Whether you are being sued, or are the one suing someone else, one of the first questions that may come to mind is whether you need a lawyer. Usually the complexity of a civil case requires a lawyer's touch, but not always. In FindLaw's section on Self-Representation you can find helpful articles on when hiring a lawyer might be a good idea and in what circumstances representing yourself might be a viable choice. In this section, you can also find information on how the conduct of witnesses and parties to a lawsuit can affect the outcome of a case.
When Self-Representation Is a Viable Option
It's generally not a good idea to represent yourself in a criminal trial. In fact, the U.S. Constitution guarantees an attorney to any criminal defendant who is facing possible jail time. However, for minor infractions, such as traffic tickets, a lawyer is not guaranteed and often is not necessary.
It may be an option to represent yourself in smaller, simple civil trials. For example, in small claims court plaintiffs and defendants usually are not allowed to have an attorney represent them. This doesn't mean you can't consult an attorney for legal questions related to the claim, but you will need to file your own paperwork and represent yourself in court. It's called small claims court because the amount of being sought is usually less than $10,000, although the limit for what is considered small claims will vary from one jurisdiction to another.
Smaller civil trials that do not qualify for small claims court may also be a good time to represent yourself. Depending on the inherent costs of employing a lawyer, if you're not seeking a large amount of money, it may not make sense to spend your money on a lawyer. To keep your costs low, you can also hire an attorney to act as a consultant, in which case he or she could provide you with advice on strategies and tactics as well as answer questions you may have about the law or the court procedures.
Another time that you may be able to represent yourself in a legal proceeding is when you're involved in alternative dispute resolution (ADR). ADR programs allow parties to resolve their issues outside of the courtroom with the help of a neutral third party. ADR is a good alternative to a trial because it usually provides a quicker resolution at a lower cost. Since ADR doesn't ordinarily require observing formal legal procedures, it's easier to represent yourself than it is in a formal trial. Please note, however, that if the other side is being represented by an attorney during ADR, you may be at a disadvantage during mediation or arbitration because the attorney is most likely well-versed in the art of negotiation.
Hiring an Attorney
While the Internet has provided a lot of tools and information for people to learn about and possibly solve their own legal issues, there are situations that require the education and experience that an attorney can offer. Generally speaking, the law is complex and there are many procedural rules involved in civil and criminal cases. If you find that your particular legal issue is more complex than you can handle, or would like to consult with an attorney to find out more about your legal matter to see if you can handle it yourself, you should contact a litigation attorney near you.