Hire a Lawyer
By Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
There's an old saying in the law that the person who represents him or herself
has a fool for a client. However, there are a number of different reasons why
persons subject to custody and access disputes choose to represent themselves
when at court.
Increasingly, more and more persons cannot afford to hire a lawyer and so they
are forced to represent themselves. In other circumstances, some persons are
unsatisfied with the direction their case is taking, believe they can do better
on their own, and hence seek to act as their own advocate.
Persons who represent themselves should be warned. There are many rules, subtleties
and nuances to the law that the novice just will not be privy to. As such the
person who represents him or herself is at risk of undermining his or her own
interests in the absence of important legal information. The person may miss
important deadlines for filing, may not fill in forms properly, and may have
mistaken beliefs in terms of what is acceptable information or evidence. Further,
the person may not be informed even as to alternate strategies for conflict
resolution other than resorting to the courts.
There are also those persons who have cycled through a number of lawyers, never
satisfied with the feedback provided or the direction of their case. In these
circumstances, the person may have been provided very reasonable and appropriate
guidance and their case may be progressing, as it should under the circumstances.
These persons may not understand that a good fight does not equal winning and
they may have the mistaken belief that the harder they fight, the more likely
it is that they will win. These persons who have cycled through a number of
lawyers who are then self-represented are at substantial risk of presenting
an image of themselves as obstructionist and controlling. They may create an
image of themselves in the minds of the court that is thus contrary to their
interest. These persons are advised to heed the input of their lawyers particularly
when their feedback and guidance is similar.
Not only are persons who are self-represented at risk of poor management of
their own file, they may find themselves unable to access other services. Some
assessors decline to work with self-represented persons. The concern of the
assessor is that he or she may be drawn into providing legal advice to the self-represented
client. In no circumstance is an assessor permitted to offer such advice. The
only way for the assessor to protect him or herself from that circumstance is
to decline the request for service altogether.
If you cannot afford a lawyer yet you feel you must go to court, there are
a few strategies that may be helpful in your situation. In many jurisdictions
there is government supported legal help, otherwise known as legal aid. You
may speak to a lawyer in your area and ask about this. Further, in many courts
there are lawyers stationed to provide on the spot advice. In some jurisdictions,
these lawyers may be referred to as Duty Counsel. You can contact your local
court to ask if there is a Duty Counsel present. Lastly, while you may not be
able to afford a lawyer to fully manage your file, some lawyers will agree to
act as a consultant to advise you on how to mange your case.
While some persons hold the belief that court is about winning, it's not. At
best, court is about having an impartial person learn about your circumstance
and where resolution cannot be achieved by any manner of negotiation or discussion,
the resolution can be imposed by Order.