March 24, 2014 by sandyonyourside
Don’t Panic! Just because the other side has a lawyer doesn’t mean you need one too. Many self-represented litigants have won their cases even with an attorney on the other side. Even on appeals.
If you decide to proceed on your own against an opponent who has a lawyer, here are some things to keep in mind about your responsibilities:
1. Only contact the other side through their lawyer. Or ask the lawyer for an okay to contact his/her client directly. If the other side contacts you personally, make sure his/her lawyer knows about it.
2. Be polite and respectful to the lawyer, even if he or she is a jerk or a blowhard. Do not say, write, or do anything you would not want brought before a judge. Keep a journal of the lawyer’s tactics for future use, if you need it.
3. Stick to the facts. Believe in the strength of your evidence. It is the lawyer’s job to fight hard for his or her client. The lawyer will argue with you. And point out the problems with your case. And try to wow you with legal jargon. You have to be equally assertive.
4. DO NOT talk to the other side’s insurance company, allow doctors or investigators working for the other side to talk with you or examine you, or sign releases without at least a quick consult with an attorney.
5. If you and the other side reach a settlement agreement, it may be worth it to purchase an hour legal advice to ensure that the agreement works for you. This is especially important if you are presented with an agreement that contains lots of legal gobbledegook.
And here are some things to keep in mind about the lawyer on the other side:
6. The lawyer HAS to talk to you. He or she cannot refuse or insist you get an attorney. This means taking your phone calls as well as responding to your letters. Meaningful negotiation is almost impossible without verbal back and forth. If the lawyer says he/she will only deal with you in writing, remind the lawyer gently that he/she is obligated to communicate with you as he/she would communicate to opposing counsel. See below if you need to take further steps.
7. The lawyer should NEVER try to give you legal advice. The lawyer’s first and only responsibility is to his/her client. Treat any purported legal advice from opposing counsel as both unethical and suspect.
8. Lawyers are allowed great leeway in litigation and settlement discussions, but, yes, there is a limit to how obnoxious a lawyer may be. The lawyer should never try to threaten, coerce, or strong-arm you. If this happens, write a polite letter to the lawyer describing the behavior and asking that it stop. You may have to write more than one such letter. If letters don’t do it, then call the lawyer’s behavior to the attention of the judge or bar disciplinary authorities. Make sure you have solid evidence of a pattern of misbehavior.
9. If you feel the lawyer is trying to bury you with legal motions and discovery, you may ask the judge to intervene.
10. If you notify the lawyer that you too have hired a lawyer, the lawyer should NOT contact you directly again. Tell your lawyer if this happens.
You can represent yourself well and Take Control of Your Case even with a lawyer on the other side. Good luck!
‘Til next week.