The Safe Harbor

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Why Self-Representation is a Serious Mistake

“He Who Represents Himself Has a Fool For a Client” – Abraham Lincoln 

fool for a client

You can easily destroy your case by trying to represent yourself.

Hoffmeyer & Semmelman’s mission is to provide you the highest quality legal service through aggressive representation using practical advice and efficient service. The firm’s mission statement encompasses many concepts which are designed to assist you in legal matters. The ultimate objective is to satisfy your goal within the bounds of the law and the facts of your case.

Law is Complex

Today’s society is more complex and it seems to be continually evolving. As a result, many laws and regulations exist to govern various matters. These laws and regulations change over time due to changes made by the legislature or by the courts interpreting those laws.

The Internet Does Not Replace Counsel

The internet enables clients to discover and review the law, and this may assist clients who desire to be actively involved in their cases. Unfortunately, individuals may rely on internet information or ‘off the shelf’ store products and attempt to handle legal matters on their own without the advice of an attorney.

What is Pro Se?

A person may represent himself or herself. This is known as “pro se” representation which Black’s Law Dictionary defines as “appearing for oneself, as in the case of one who does not retain a lawyer and appears for himself in court”.

The Perils of Pro Se

There are perils to representing oneself in legal matters. The internet and “off the shelf” legal guides in stores are unable to serve you in the manner you may expect or believe. You need to make an informed decision and we, as your attorney, can provide the following services unlike the internet or other products: 1. We appear in court to present your legal arguments, raise evidentiary objections and determine when it is better to continue or discontinue with questioning a witness. 2. We determine legal strategy and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of various options with you so you may understand and decide which course of action is best for you to take. 3. We keep ourselves apprised of current developments in the law. For example, on April 21, 2016, Governor Wolf signed a law amending the Divorce Code. The amendment becomes effective in 60 days and it allows the spouse who is a victim of a personal injury crime to obtain a divorce by consent because the other spouse is presumed to consent to the divorce when convicted of a personal injury crime against the victim spouse. 4. We are available to provide legal advice and discuss practical issues which may be as important in your case as the legal issues.

Examples of Legal Quandaries

“Pro se” representation may cause additional time and expense because it is more difficult to extricate oneself from a legal problem than it is to avoid the issue. What would you do in these situations? a. You buy a lease document form from a store or download it from the internet. The lease says it is governed by California law. What state law applies between the landlord and tenant who are both from Pennsylvania and the property is in Pennsylvania? b. You are in a divorce and sign a consent form, but you do not raise any property claims relating to the division of the marital assets. Can you still obtain alimony or an interest in the other spouse’s retirement? What if the retirement plan is governed by ERISA? What if you fail to remove your former spouse as a beneficiary under your ERISA governed life insurance policy? Does the former spouse receive the life insurance benefits? In a case presented to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the Court held in favor of our client and awarded the former spouse the life insurance benefits from her deceased ex-husband’s estate. c. You prepared or used a contract governed by the Plain Language Consumer Contract Law which allows a person to recover attorney fees and damages for a violation of the law. The contract has a confession of judgment clause. Have you violated this law? d. A condominium board records an amendment by copying some language from a prior amendment which was prepared by an attorney and then it used its own language to complete it. The amendment changes one clause but fails to remove another clause which contradicts the amendment. Which clause controls, the new amended one or the old one which the board forgot to remove? e. You use the corporation bureau’s website to obtain a form to create a corporation. You complete and file the form. The corporation buys real estate but then you decide a limited liability company was better for your tax situation. Can you transfer the corporate real estate to the limited liability company without paying another real estate transfer tax because you are the same ‘owner’?

Pro Se Litigants Must Know the Law and Rules

Balanced legal scales

Make sure the scales are in your favor by retaining the right legal counsel.

Finally, some people erroneously believe the court will assist them in litigation or other matters before the court because they are not lawyers and are pro se. Unfortunately, this belief is incorrect. The courts have stated in different cases as follows:

  • A pro se litigant must to some extent assume the risk that his lack of legal training will prove his undoing.
  • A pro se litigant “is subject to same rules of procedure as is a counseled defendant; he has no greater right to be heard than he would have if he were represented by an attorney”.
  • A pro se litigant is not absolved of complying with procedural rules and courts have no affirmative duty to walk a pro se litigant through the rules.

Hoffmeyer & Semmelman is Available to Help

We are available to consult with you and provide initial information to enable you to decide how to handle your case and avoid harming your interests. Contact our law office in York PA to learn how we can help you.

Does Pro Se Mean You Have a Fool for a Client? was last modified: October 13th, 2019 by Hoffmeyer & Semmelman