This week in Young, Hungry, and Committed, Vivian Sobers, virtual office New York attorney, states: Pro Se = At York Own Risk
Last week, I unexpectedly found myself in Landlord/Tenant court.
I wasn’t there for my health. Rather, a very good colleague of mine called me frantically at 7 AM stating that he had food poisoning. I immediately thought, “That’s what you get for eating oysters on a Monday…”
He needed me to cover an eviction proceeding on behalf of his client, the landlord. Easy enough.
I arrived at court early, as usual, and was extremely distraught at what I saw.
To quote The Talking Heads, “This is not my beautiful house…How did I get here?”
What happened to formality?
I always have.
Even when I would get an errant traffic or parking ticket, I would appear in court dressed to the nines. I think it shows a certain respect for the judicial process and speaks of a person’s character.
Anyways, in spite of their lack of decorum I grabbed my seat in the attorney pool as they did roll call. Case after case appeared before the judge, and almost every case involved a pro se defendant.
Facts and case theories aside, it got me thinking about the perils of pro se.
But even more, it got me thinking about how people take the law lightly. The pro se defendants in LL/T court took the law so lightly that they assumed they could just Google eviction and they would magically know what it took all of us three years of law school, intense bar studying, CLE’s and the daily practice of law to become familiar with.
The usual effect of self-representation is an unintentional, prolonged dismay. Frankly, the delay is a harbinger of inevitably. It is the secret we are all talking about. (So therefore, is it a secret?)
These “lawyers” almost always lose. Whether the reason being they didn’t bring the appropriate documents or that they decided, yet again, to represent themselves.
I hate to say it, but my mother’s advise holds water…
This brings to mind a saying my mother used to drill in my head when I was a child “el flojo trabaja doble” (the lazy person works double). While the epidemic of pro se representation may not always be attributed to laziness, failing to retain an attorney usually leads to double the work and double the time than simply hiring one in the first place.
Sadly, the general public are not even the most egregious offenders of failure to respect the law.
The worst offenders are those who make their living in the penumbras: attorneys.
A few months ago, I wrote a piece about how as lawyers, we have to learn that sometimes you can’t take every case that is presented to you.
This is especially true if you are a party to the case.
LAWYERS SHOULD NEVER APPEAR PRO SE!
A while back, I was doing a good amount of pro bono foreclosure defense work. While I was sitting on the hard wooden benches reviewing the facts in controversy, another attorney sat down next to me. Besides having the complexion of just seeing a ghost, he had small beads of sweat forming above his temples.
Obviously, I asked if he was okay. After getting him a water, he vomited out his story. He was not there to represent a client that signed a retainer. No, he was the client.
The biggest problem with the scenario is that he was a corporate transactional attorney. His hubris gave him a false sense of confidence, and every second that passed added a few more cracks to that veneer.
He probably thought: “Hey. I am a lawyer. How hard can this be? Who is going to represent my interests better than myself?”
Well, he ended up on the wrong side of the decision.
I hear about stories like this all the time. Attorneys that go outside of their practice area to represent themselves inevitably lose.
The same set of logic that we apply to our practices should be applied to cases involving ourselves. If you would not take the case from a paying, then you should never take the case if it involves yourself.
Moral of the story: get an attorney, whether you are a non-attorney or the genius practitioner, everyone needs an attorney. Sometimes, it is okay to have a few cracks in that polished veneer. They can always be repaired.
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Vivian Sobers is a commercial litigator pursuing a solo law practice right out of law school. She is a client in Law Firm Suites’ Virtual Office Program. Vivian’s weekly blog series “Young, Hungry and Committed” documents the trials and tribulations of a young attorney navigating her way through the challenging world of self-employed legal practice.