Why Can’t I Just Handle My Own Case?

       The simple answer is that you can in almost every situation, except perhaps if you’re charged with a felony crime. In reality, the law is not rocket science.  After all, just because most lawyers spend four years getting a college education, then three to four years in law school, followed by several months studying to pass the bar examination, before starting their real legal education as lawyers, there’s no reason that you can’t handle your own case.  Or can you?  The truth is that the law is fraught with peril and checking, or not checking what appears to be a simple box on a simple form may, or may not have disastrous consequences.  The trick is knowing whether it will, or it won’t.  This is not meant to scare you – only to get your attention.

       Some legal issues are very straight forward and you don’t have to have a college education or a law degree to figure them out.  In fact, some lawyers are really dumb and some litigants are way smarter than their lawyers.  Some people handle stress really well and others would just prefer to have someone else deal with their problem.  As such, it’s all up to you…

       Most family courts have a “Self-help Center,” which is designed to help self-represented litigants try to solve their own problems, without the need or expense of hiring a lawyer.  Many times the Self-help Center can help you figure out how to solve less complex legal issues with some degree of success.  Other times, not so much.

       Another popular option is using one of the numerous “para-lawyer” services, which can be found by simply walking in front any Courthouse.  Typically, you’ll be accosted by one or more people trying to thrust a business card into your hand, advertising low-cost “document preparation services.”  There are also people who hold themselves out as “legal document assistants,” which is a legal distinction provided for under Business and Professions Code § 6400 (c).  B & P Code § 6400 (g) specifically prohibits a “legal document assistant” from providing any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation to a consumer about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms, or strategies.  So, if your para-lawyer is advising that you check any box, use any form or take any course of action, they are breaking the law and putting your legal matter at risk.  Is it really worth it?

       The problem with para-lawyers is that they most likely never went to law school (if they did they probably never passed the bar examination or they’d be lawyers), they definitely can’t go to Court with you to support the legal documents that they prepared (at a greatly reduced fee) and when things go horribly wrong during your hearing, your para-lawyer will be nowhere to be found.  The reality is that every box your para-lawyer tells you to check (or in reality, checks themselves), is in fact a legal decision that is being made and your para-lawyer is not a lawyer or qualified to be practicing law, which is exactly what they’re doing when they “help” you prepare your legal documents by offering suggestions or guiding the process.  There’s a reason your para-lawyer is so cheap, it’s because they’re worth every penny you paid them.

       Unfortunately, there are some problems that just can’t be fixed once they happen and we have received far too many telephone calls from self-represented litigants who used a document preparation service and then ran into serious trouble in Court.  Sometimes, it’s because they did or didn’t check a certain box, or know how to ask for what they truly needed and then heard the Judge say “I can’t give you legal advice,” which is code for you just blew it…  At that point, an Order is often made that hurts the client and which usually can’t be cheaply or easily fixed, if at all.

       The truth is that hiring a lawyer is a difficult decision and we get it.  To the best of our knowledge, money does not grow on trees, or bushes and most of us don’t have a rich uncle willing to pay our legal bills.  As such, there are times when we need to try to handle things ourselves and the Links (should link to my mediation page – remove this in the web copy) section of this website will hopefully help you make better decisions and have a greater degree of success.  You can also take a look at the Anatomy of a Divorce or Legal Separation (should link to my Anatomy of a Divorce or Legal Separation page – remove this in the web copy) section of our website, too as it provides some good self-help information as well.

       If there ever gets to be a point where things start to get out of hand, become a little too complex or complicated, you can always call the Law Offices of Werno & Associates and we’ll do our best to get you out of your jam.  Just give us a call at (714) 542-4466 and remember that consultations are always free.

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