Sometimes you might think that looking for and paying a lawyer to represent you in court is unnecessary, or maybe too stressful or costly – so you decide to represent yourself. But is that wise? We’ve all seen in movies and on TV what can happen to people who go into the court system unprepared, and while it might be entertaining to watch, in real life it can be a far more stressful experience. Court appearances take complex technical knowledge and management, and there are many conventions and procedures that you need to follow. But do you have to rely on a lawyer, or are there practical steps you can take to prepare yourself?
We asked some of Australia’s most experienced lawyers what advice they would give to someone thinking of representing themselves.
The first response is from Dino Di Rosa, Principal Lawyer at Di Rosa Lawyers in Adelaide. The Di Rosa website explains the kind of legal service Dino’s firm offers: http://dirosalawyers.com.au/about/the-difference/ But what would Dino say to someone considering representing themselves?
In a word, don’t! In a few words – what’s that old saying? “Anybody who represents themselves has a fool for a client.” If, because of economic or other reasons, it is not possible for you to have a lawyer, then the first advice we would give is to try to settle the matter prior to going to court, as cost ramifications may follow, even though you are unrepresented – and of course it is always best to resolve a dispute yourself rather than go through the delay and anguish of having the court make that decision for you. If the case is unable to be resolved prior to going to court, then the next advice would be firstly to know your case, secondly, to ensure you have all the necessary documentation and evidence generally to support your case, thirdly, to know and understand the relevant court rules in the jurisdiction in which you are appearing, and fourthly and probably most importantly, be respectful and courteous to the Court at all times!
Dino Di Rosa, Principal and Lawyer
Di Rosa Lawyers
The second response is from Shanna Mahony, Solicitor and Director of Mahony Family Lawyers in Sydney. Read more about the services Shanna and her team offer here: http://mahonylawyers.com.au/about-us/our-team/For people considering representing themselves, Shanna has this advice:
Acting as a self-represented litigant in proceedings can be a daunting task. The law is a complex area of knowledge and it is often insufficient to rely on personal knowledge of the dispute, absent a knowledge of the legal framework that will determine the dispute. Some tips for acting as a self-represented litigant include:
- Ensure you are punctual to all Court attendances.
- Ensure that you have all Court documents and correspondence properly collated in a neat folder and easily accessible.
- Be polite to the other party, solicitors and the Court staff.
- Properly address the Judicial Officer as “Your Honour”.
- If possible, engage a solicitor to draft Court documents or provide one off advice from time to time to ensure that you stay on track in conducting your case.
Shanna Mahony, Director
Mahony Family Lawyers
Jonathan Wilcox and Robert Daoud, solicitor and principal of Sydney Criminal Defence Lawyers (http://sydneycriminaldefencelawyers.com.au/), argue more strenuously against the idea of self-representation. When we asked them what advice they might give to someone thinking of representing themselves, their answer was emphatic:
Don’t. Research shows that litigants receive better outcomes when they are represented. While magistrates and even the prosecution try to help self-represented litigants represent themselves, the fact that an entire profession exists to assist people in the process means that self-represented litigants are getting off on the wrong foot. In terms of those things which a person should dig deep for in their life, paying a lawyer is probably not something which should be put on the bottom of the list.
Jonathan Wilcox, Solicitor and Robert Daoud, Principal
Sydney Criminal Defence Lawyers
Three expert opinions, sounding the same note of caution. Lawyers are specifically trained in the complex workings of court cases and the conventions of court etiquette, which can be quite confronting if you aren’t familiar with them. Having a lawyer represent you in court, our experts suggest, is the safest way to ensure you don’t end up going through a real courtroom drama.
Please note that the information reported in this article is correct at the time of publication and that the legal opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.