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Representing Yourself: Should You?

| Jul 6, 2021 | Firm News

Written By:  Robert L. Buzzendore, Esquire

Professional services, whether a physician, engineer or an attorney, are necessary to navigate the complexities of their respective fields. It is acknowledged these costs may come at an unexpected time or result in unplanned expenses.

We use paralegals, as appropriate, to reduce attorney costs. Clients may assist themselves and reduce their costs, if they so desire, by doing leg work such as obtaining documents or waiting, if appropriate, by sending one email with multiple questions rather than sending an email on a daily basis where time is billed to the tenth of an hour.

A person may also decide to save attorney fees by representing himself or herself in a case. This is known as ‘pro se’ representation. The question is this: is it a wise decision?

On May 28, 2021, the Superior Court quashed the appeal of a pro se party because it failed to comply with the Rules of Appellate Procedure. Elliot-Greenleaf (“Greenleaf”) provided services to Mr. Rothstein’s parents under a reduced hourly fee contract for real estate services. Both of his parents died in 2012. Mr. Rothstein was the executor for the Estates and he used Greenleaf for business matters.

Greenleaf provided services at the reduced hourly rate and Rothstein refused to pay for the services.  Greenleaf filed legal action at the magisterial district judge and obtained a judgment against Rothstein, who filed an appeal to County Court.

Greenleaf obtained a judgment from the arbitration panel and Rothstein appealed. A judge heard the case de novo (anew as though the arbitration had not occurred) and entered judgment against Rothstein, who filed an appeal to Superior Court where he continued his pro se status.

Unfortunately for Rothstein, his inexperience resulted in his appeal being dismissed. The Superior Court quoted the PA Supreme Court on the standard it applies to a pro se litigant. “[A]ny layperson choosing to represent [himself] in a legal proceeding must, to some reasonable extent, assume the risk that [his] lack of expertise and legal training will prove [his] undoing.”

Rothstein’s lack of legal training proved his undoing because he failed  to comply with numerous appellate court rules. The Superior Court stated it was not his attorney and his brief prevented the Court from being  able to conduct meaningful review. The Court stated that while it was willing to liberally construe his brief, Rothstein “was not entitled to any particular advantage because he lacked legal training.” Consequently, it dismissed his appeal.

Having handled over 35 cases in the Superior Court, the appellate rules and procedure can become very complicated even for attorneys. Representing oneself before a magisterial district judge may be satisfactory, but County Court becomes substantially more complex due to the rules, procedure and law.

If a person is unable to afford an attorney, a person may contact MidPenn Legal Services. Otherwise, an attorney, or at least a consultation with an attorney to obtain advice about what one may encounter, is recommended before deciding to become pro se. We are available to assist you if you have questions about your case.

ELLIOT-GREENLEAF, P.C. v. ROBERT ROTHSTEIN, No. 1848 EDA 2020.

© Copyright by Hoffmeyer & Semmelman LLC,  July 2021