We often get e-mailed or called by people who don’t think they can afford a lawyer and wonder if they can represent themselves. The quick answer to that is you could also remove your own appendix, but we don’t recommend that either. In reality though, in some cases it’s fine to represent yourself and in others even if you don’t think you can afford a lawyer you probably can.
If you have a very minor matter like a speeding ticket, you can probably get a good result on your own if it’s a first offense. If you want to file for social security benefits for the first time, you don’t need a lawyer, you just need to file. Preparing your own will or filing your own divorce papers is a little bit trickier. It’s certainly possible to do that on your own, but the more that is at stake, the more you should consider if that’s a good idea. In other words, if you have no kids, no money and no property and have been married for a year, there isn’t much for you to mess up by filing for divorce on your own as long as you are comfortable with your ability to properly fill out the paperwork and appear in court. On the other hand, if you are fighting over custody of a child, a retirement account, property, etc., you could really screw up your case, especially if the other side had an attorney.
For more technically complex cases like a medical malpractice lawsuit, we would be beyond shocked if a non-lawyer could successfully pursue a case without an Illinois malpractice law firm in their corner. In fact, we regrettably saw one case where there was malpractice, but for some reason the plaintiff tried to file his case on his own before seeking a lawyer. He made a mistake with the initial paperwork that barred his case forever.
In malpractice cases along with many others (workers’ compensation, social security appeals, personal injury, some collection cases, some commercial litigation cases) it is possible to have an attorney represent you that will work on a contingency basis which means that they only get paid if they make a recovery for you. In some of these cases, like a car accident, it’s not un-common to see an individual try to negotiate something with the insurance company without a lawyer’s help. The problem with this is not only do many people do things that hurt their case (such as providing a recorded statement), many insurance companies will make a low ball offer that doesn’t come close to fully compensating you, but discourages a lawyer from wanting to come and help out. In plain English, you get the choice of filing a lawsuit yourself or accepting well below what you likely would have received with an attorney.
The other big fear with trying to handle things on your own is that often by doing so you prevent an attorney from being able to help you or you can create a mess that is too big to clean up.
We understand that there are many cases where not having the money to hire a lawyer forces your hand. If you aren’t getting child support and the state won’t help you, it makes sense that you would file a case on your own if you can’t afford what can be expensive attorney’s fees. Just rest assured, if you have doubts as to whether or not you need an attorney or can represent yourself, we are happy to answer those questions. In general know that for most family law cases (divorce, child support, custody, etc.) you do need to pay a lawyer by the hour and it’s usually at least $1,500-$2,500 up front depending on where you live. For most injury cases you can find a law firm that will only get paid if they are successful.
If you are confused or have questions about whether or not an Illinois law firm is needed for your situation, please do not hesitate to contact us at any time.