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You have a right to represent yourself in court in a civil case. If you choose to represent yourself, the court will hold you to the same standards as if you were a lawyer.
Some cases are simple and straightforward. Others are complex and difficult. You need to consider the complexities and specific issues involved in your case and what is at stake for you when deciding whether to go ahead without a lawyer. If you find, as your case proceeds, that representing yourself is too difficult, you may have the option at that time to hire a lawyer to represent you.
How hard it will be to represent yourself depends on your individual case. Many people have successfully represented themselves. Others have gone to court and found that their case was more complicated or that the court process was more difficult than they expected.
These are some things to consider when deciding whether to represent yourself:
There are complex rules of evidence that govern whether you can present this information in court, and if so, how to present it.
In a civil case it is not unusual for one side to have a lawyer while the other side does not. If you do not have a lawyer but the other side does, you need to understand these things about that lawyer's role:
The lawyer should not pressure you or suggest that you take any particular action. Do not rely on advice from a lawyer who is representing the other side.
This does not mean that the lawyer for the other side cannot talk to you. The other side's lawyer will have to talk to you in order to represent his or her client. He or she can express an opinion, argue for a particular outcome and try to negotiate a settlement. You are always free to disagree. If you feel pressured by the lawyer on the other side, you should tell the judge.
Representing yourself when the other side has a lawyer can be intimidating, especially if the case goes to trial. Be aware that in many civil cases, there are ways to resolve a case without going through a trial. You can get a third party involved to help you and the other side resolve the case. This could be a probation officer, housing specialist or other person who works for the court, depending on what court you are in and what type of case you have. It could also be someone from outside the court, if the parties agree. You and the other side might decide to take advantage of alternative dispute resolution services, commonly referred to as ADR services. See Section X: Settling the Case.
In some circumstances, it may be possible for you to hire a lawyer to handle only part of your case. In a few of the courts, lawyers are permitted to provide "limited assistance representation." Limited assistance representation means that the client and the lawyer have agreed that the lawyer will perform specific tasks on the case, but the client will be responsible for other tasks. For example, the client and the lawyer may agree that the lawyer will provide legal advice on one or more issues, or will prepare or review certain documents - but that the lawyer will not go to court or assist the client in other ways. The client and lawyer also may agree that the lawyer will appear in court for one or more events, but not for the whole case.
In courts where limited assistance representation is permitted, it still may not be suitable in a particular case. If you are considering hiring a lawyer to handle only a portion of your case, you should check with a lawyer to find out whether it is allowed and whether it makes sense in your case.