The old saying that “a person who represents himself has a fool for a client” is not always true. Small claims court is probably the best example. Most of these judges like to run Judge Judy-type courts. Lawyers get in the way, and most of these jurists do not like dealing with lawyers. While it’s a good idea to consult an attorney beforehand, an in-court lawyer may hurt you more than help you in this forum.
But in almost all other cases, you really do need a lawyer from an experienced and deep firm like Wallin & Klarich, even if it seems superfluous. For example, if you got a traffic ticket in California twenty-five years ago, it was usually a good idea to pay the fine and get it over with. But today’s tickets cost about twenty times the fine, when considering add-ons (like penalty assessments) and indirect costs (like higher insurance rates). In other words, the stakes are too high to go it alone.
No one rolls out of bed one morning and suddenly becomes a good accountant, teacher, chef, mechanic, or whatever. These skills take a long time to learn and even a longer time to fully develop. You may be a very bright person, but do you really have the time to learn all the law and procedure involved?
“Experienced lawyer” is a lot like “yellow banana.” Most all bananas are yellow, and almost all lawyers are experienced. But how much does that attorney practice in a particular court? That’s an important question, because many procedural rules are unwritten.
Although most procedural errors can be undone, it almost always takes considerable time and money to do so. Therefore, it is better to get it right the first time, and that means you need an experienced attorney.
Big Picture Thinking
People charged with crimes often only think about the immediate future and how the charges will affect them and the people immediately close to them. But what will today’s decisions mean later on? For example, some people think it is a good idea to plead guilty to a petty theft offense, especially if the prosecutor offers an extremely light sentence. But theft is a crime of moral turpitude, and such convictions often cause significant problems later.
All this general experience, local experience, and ability to see the big picture helps attorneys be excellent courtroom advocates. They develop a solid theory of the case going in, and then execute that plan. Quite frankly, these are skills that well-meaning and intelligent do-it-yourselfers simply cannot replicate overnight, and your future is too important to risk.
Most all attorneys offer free consultations. This consultation is your chance to evaluate the attorney not only in terms of legal skill, but also in terms of personality and communication skills. If you do not like what you see, walk away. There will be no hard feelings.
Especially in criminal cases, there is an awful lot at stake, and a court-appointed attorney is not always a good option, or even optional at all. Instead, by talking to a private attorney, you have everything to gain and nothing to lose.