Should You Represent Yourself in Court?

You have been charged with a crime, and you have been summoned to court. Whether it is a traffic violation, a misdemeanor that resulted from a bar fight, or even a low-level drug possession issue, attorney representation can be a significant expense. Now, you are attempting to decide whether you can manage your defense on your own without hiring a lawyer.

Those that represent themselves in legal proceedings on their own behalf are referred to and appear as “pro se” litigants. While most persons do not have real-time courtroom experience—especially as a defendant—many feel that they have gained valuable knowledge from movies and TV shows and therefore understand courtroom mechanics. Possibly the most famous pro se litigant was Robert Kearns, the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper who prevailed in court against the giant Chrysler corporation. If someone like the non-legally trained engineer Kearns could be successful in a big-time courtroom setting, why not skip the lawyer expense and handle your case yourself?

Pro Se Representation Advantages

Legal education is difficult and rigorous, and therefore many lawyers feel that any person who represents him or herself in court has a fool for a lawyer and a bigger fool for a client. There are, however, some advantages to self-representation.

Costs: No attorney means no attorney fees. While you still would be responsible for court costs like legal transcriptions and filing fees, for example, you would not have to pay a lawyer for representation.

Understanding Your Case: Some defendants feel that only they understand the intricacies of their particular case and that even after careful explanation, a lawyer may just not grasp certain important case points.

Strategy: Sometimes, clients and their attorneys differ in case strategies. For example, which witnesses should be called and in what order? Without a lawyer, a pro se litigant can avoid having to convince their lawyer how to present their case.

Pro Se Representation Disadvantages

Home Field Advantage:  Good attorney litigators are comfortable in court and understand how the system works. Pro se litigators may find themselves in very rough and uncharted waters when in a courtroom with a stern judge and a very experienced prosecution team.

Court Rules: There are some basic universal rules that govern courtroom conduct—the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in federal courts, for example—and every U.S. court can have its own set of local rules that help the court manage the disposition of its cases. These rules can govern the filing of motions to court dress code requirements. Unless pro se litigants are familiar with these rules, they can face rebukes and even sanctions from an impatient judge.

Lack of Legal training: Pro se litigants can be easily outclassed by experienced lawyers in areas like motions and cross-examination techniques.

The Legal System Discourages Pro Se Appearances:  The legal system is set up for lawyers to represent clients. While it does acknowledge that defendants can represent themselves, the system is not necessarily pro se user-friendly.

While courts allow pro se defendants, anyone charged with an offense that requires a court appearance should consider the services of an experienced attorney. David Freidberg represents the interests of Chicago residents who have been charged with serious crimes like murder in the Chicago area. Call today at (312) 560-7100 to schedule an appointment, and we can begin preparing your defense immediately. 

Before you consider a jump into the pro se arena, talk to a skilled trial attorney.

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