I Have a Legal Claim: Can I Represent Myself?
Sure you can. Of course, you could also perform your own appendectomy with a kitchen knife. But that doesn’t make it a good idea.
At some point in life, every single one of us is going to possess a legal claim—be it a property damage dispute from a thunderstorm or an accident that happened at work. One of the biggest decisions that we all face is whether to hire an attorney to help us with that claim. Our law firm is asked for advice on this topic daily. We respond with a simple question: what is the price of losing?
If the price of losing your case is more costly than hiring a lawyer, then you need to be seeking legal representation. But how do you know what is the price, and the risk, of losing? Here are several categories of cases to keep in mind.
WHEN AN ATTORNEY IS LEGALLY REQUIRED
If your legal claim is on behalf of any organized business entity—such as a corporation or limited liability company—you absolutely must have an attorney. Both federal and state rules prohibit organized business from representing themselves in court. Thus, whether your business is a plaintiff or a defendant, you must hire an attorney or you will be thrown out of court.
WHEN AN ATTORNEY IS A PRACTICAL NECESSITY
Serious Personal Injury Claims
Serious personal injury claims typically involve a stay of several days in the hospital, surgery, and visits to several different healthcare providers. Medical bills can easily exceed $50,000 in such cases, much of which may not be covered by typical health insurance.
Even when liability appears clear in these types of cases, as a claimant you are forced into a position of negotiating with the defendant’s liability insurance company (who wants to pay you as little as possible), your medical providers (who want to charge you as much as possible), and your health insurance (who wants to recover as much as possible from any money you receive).
Attempting to juggle all of these competing interests–while you are attempting to recover from a serious injury–is a recipe for disaster. In such a case, representing yourself could easily leave you owing tens of thousands of dollars to medical providers with nothing to show for the pain, suffering, and possible permanent disability you have incurred.
Worker’s Compensation/Social Security Disability
Worker’s Compensation and Social Security Disability are very unique areas of the law that even most lawyers don’t understand. Litigating a claim within these two areas of the law is very rule- and form-driven. Attorneys who practice in these areas generally specialize in them.
Attempting to represent yourself in Worker’s Compensation or Social Security Disability runs the risk of you running afoul of one of the many technicalities in this area. Unfortunately, if you do mess up one of the minute details of these types of law, it often means that your claim is denied.
WHEN YOU CAN REPRESENT YOURSELF
Property Damage Insurance Claims
Property damage insurance claims are a different “ball of wax” than what we see in most personal injury cases. The “dispute,” if there is one, is over one of two issues: 1) whether your property damage is covered by your insurance policy, or 2) the value of your property damage. Now, if you have an unusually large claim–say, for a house fire–you may well want to hire an attorney to handle your case. But a typical claim–a tree branch falling on a car, for example–will not need the intervention of a lawyer.
Of course, you can always consult an attorney, should you feel that you are not getting the benefit of your bargain in a property damage insurance claim.
If you are uncomfortable deciding when you do, or don’t need legal representation, the best thing to do is develop a relationship with a law firm in your state, as they are well-versed in the state laws that almost always apply to legal claims. Firms like ours, Chappell Smith and Arden, P.A., routinely handle inquiries–free of charge–from individuals who don’t know if they have a claim or don’t know if they need an attorney. The best rule of thumb, however, is “what is the price of losing?” If the price is one you aren’t willing to pay, then likely you should be speaking to an attorney.