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Monday, 30 January 2017 01:45

When Is it Time to Retain an Attorney?

As an attorney concentrating in family law, my firm helps clients with divorce, alimony, paternity, child custody, child visitation, and child support in Illinois.

Over the past decade, I have spent nearly every day in a courtroom in Cook, DuPage, participating in literally hundreds of contested hearings, settlement conferences, and bench and jury trials in both the state and federal courts.

Without hesitation, I can say that outside of those courtrooms, the single most popular question I'm asked is "Do I really need to hire a lawyer?" In legalese, this boils down to representing yourself pro se vs. retaining an attorney to provide legal counsel. Pro se legal representation means advocating on one's own behalf before a court of law, rather than being represented by an attorney. While virtually any litigant has the option of representing him or herself pro se, there are some practical considerations before doing so.

The Value of Litigation Experience an Attorney Brings to the Courtroom Table

An experienced attorney knows how to conduct legal research, draft appropriate pleadings, propound (i.e., put forward for consideration by others), conduct legal discovery, present evidence, elicit testimony, and make persuasive arguments. An experienced attorney is intimately familiar with the relevant statutes and supporting case law pertaining to the case at hand. Besides knowing the evidentiary and procedural rules in court, an experienced attorney ultimately understands how the legal process works in the real world. For example, knowing how a particular courtroom operates and being familiar with those biases and idiosyncrasies of the judge that presides over your case can be invaluable.

Many litigants I've come in contact with over the years—including some of my own clients—have attempted to represent themselves in court at one point chosen in the hopes of saving money. While understandable, the results were less than what they'd hoped. Studies suggest that pro se litigants are far less likely to win their cases than those who are represented by attorneys. According to a U.S. Department of Justice study, pro se appellants were successful approximately 10% of the time with immigration appeals. By comparison, those represented by attorneys were successful 40% of the time.

"A lawyer who represents herself is said to have a fool for a client. That problem is compounded—and the effects and burdens extend well beyond the disadvantaged lawyer/client—when the 'fool' also lacks any legal training or experience."
Judges Views of Pro Se Litigants' Effect on Courts
Clearinghouse REVIEW Journal of Poverty Law and Policy
July–August 2006

While a pro se litigant may certainly be able to represent themselves in certain types of simple legal proceedings, the task becomes more difficult as the degree of complexity increases. When one party is represented by an attorney and the other party is not, the pro se litigant will probably not be operating on a level playing field. In the long run, representing yourself without the requisite legal knowledge can prove to be a far more costly endeavor.

The bottom line about your bottom line: If you care about the outcome of your case, do yourself a favor and retain an experienced attorney. Having competent legal representation is the single most important investment you can make in asserting and protecting your legal rights.

To see if makes sense to pursue legal representation in your specific circumstances, please contact me: Attorney Christian S. Collin. Collin Law Offices, P.C., has locations in downtown Chicago as well as in Chicago's western suburb of Berwyn. Both offices serve clients in suburban Cook County and DuPage County. We will also be opening a new law office in Berrien County, Michigan, to serve clients in the Benton Harbor/St. Joseph area.


This blog post is made available by the law firm for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this site you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the blog/website publisher. The blog/website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state. Family law attorney Christian Collin expressly disclaims any and all liability of any kind or nature with respect to any act or omission based wholly or in part in reliance on anything contained in this blog/website.

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