A Strategic Partner




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So What If Your Opponent Has An Attorney


Another kind of lie deceives the pro se litigant into feeling inferior and less than deserving because an opponent has an attorney to represent him. The pro se wants to win his case every bit as much as a represented client; we’ve already established that. But, that does little to reassure a nervous defendant and would-be, first-time litigator, struggling to remember the rules for introducing motions while at the next table over, the plaintiff’s attorney chats smugly with his client and sips ice water in his $700 Armani suit.


It is not uncommon for a pro se litigant to walk into a courtroom believing he has somehow shortchanged his case because he hasn’t shelled out hundreds or even thousands of dollars for an attorney. He can have a perfectly valid legal right to his claim, have at his fingertips all the supporting testimony and evidence needed to prove that claim and even walk into court with a solid understanding of how to present his case and still fail to persuade a judge or jury to award him his due.


“If your claim is relatively straightforward and you have good information, there is no reason to back down just because a lawyer shows up on the other side,” writes Nolo Press in a piece published on the Web site. “Likewise, if a lawyer brings suit against you in many types of smaller lawsuits, you should consider defending yourself without paying the expense of a lawyer.” [3] 


The pro se litigant should carry no inner conflicts about self-representation. Sure, there are cases when it would be reckless to proceed without well-qualified representation, but there are likewise many situations where an attorney would simply complicate things and increase costs. It would make little sense to walk into traffic court with a lawyer in tow to fight a hundred dollar speeding ticket, for example.


“Lawyers routinely charge $150 to $250 an hour for their time, and that includes time spent talking to you on the telephone, researching your case in the library, driving to and from court and waiting (sometimes several hours) in the courtroom for the case to be called,” the Nolo Press piece writes. “It doesn’t take a genius to understand that if you can do the job yourself, you can save buckets of money.”


The legal system doesn’t consider you a helpless bystander in your case, unable to speak out or contribute to your own defense. Neither, then should you.


While most lawyers will treat you with professional courtesy if you treat them likewise, don’t be intimidated by a lawyer who tries to brush you off or bully you, whether in court or pre-trial. They may try tactics including minimizing your claim or legal entitlement to it, delaying or dodging you during pre-trial discovery, or being otherwise dismissive in an attempt to knock down your confidence.


Pay particular attention to attempts like these and guard against other passive aggressive techniques when and if the time comes for settlement negotiations. It’s probably a good idea to at least talk to an attorney during this phase and get some guidance of what such negotiations might look like and how to succeed at them, especially if the settlement documents are slathered in indecipherable legalese. Be skeptical, pretend you’re trying to buy a used car from them.


“To reach the port of success we must sail, sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it – but we must sail, not drift or lie at anchor.”

  ---  Oliver Wendell Holmes


[1] “What to do if the Other Side Has A Lawyer”, Nolo Press, copyright 2002, 

[2] Lesson 3, “Believe in Yourself” Master Small Business Empowerment Course, The American Success Institute 

[3] “What to do if the Other Side Has A Lawyer”, Nolo Press, copyright 2002, 

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