WHEN DO YOU NEED A LAWYER?
Admitting that you need a lawyer’s help is not easy. People want to be self-sufficient and handle their own personal or business affairs. Some legal issues are viewed as embarrassing or emotional, and better handled discreetly. Hiring a lawyer sometimes seems costly or unnecessarily confrontational.
But just as you would hesitate to diagnose your own illness or fix the brakes on your car, you should also hesitate to represent yourself in a legal matter. Lawyers can often guide you through a difficult process more quickly and with less stress on you than if you tried to do it yourself. They also have the expertise to help you avoid costly problems. Here are some guidelines to consider when deciding whether or not to hire a lawyer.
►How familiar are you with the legal process you face? (And watching court TV doesn’t count!). If you are a business person who regularly negotiates contracts, you may be able to draft a simple agreement or represent yourself in small claims court.
►How complex is the legal problem and how much is at stake? If you are divorcing after a few years of marriage, with no children and no house, you may choose to represent yourself. But long term marriages with a house, pensions, a business, minor children, and potential alimony claims are much better handled with legal counsel.
►Will the other side be represented by an attorney? You may want to “even the playing field” and have your own counsel. This doesn’t necessarily make the matter more confrontational. Often, two attorneys can suggest resolutions and settle cases quickly because they understand the law and how it might be applied to the facts in your case.
►How emotional is the legal problem? While family and probate courts in Vermont are equipped to be used by people representing themselves (pro se litigants) they often involve very emotional matters. The paperwork to start a guardianship for an elderly parent or to file for a divorce is not difficult. But the emotional burden of dealing with former spouses in a divorce, or with children, parents and siblings who disagree that a guardianship is needed, may be overwhelming. Having an attorney assist you may ease the process and allow you to make clearer and better decisions for yourself and your family.