Do you need to hire an attorney? Is the idea of pro se representation appealing or overwhelming?
The idea of paying an attorney may be daunting. When you’re facing legal trouble, it may be tempting to try to handle it yourself — after all, the legal system *should* be set up so that any citizen can participate, right? Is pro se representation necessarily a bad thing?
Here’s how to determine whether or not you need to hire an attorney:
Ask an attorney.
Hell, ask two or three attorneys.
I’ve come back to this post a few times now trying to come up with some clever formula I could share that would let you figure out on your own whether a given situation is one best-handled alone or with legal assistance and I’ve not yet come up with one.
There are so many factors involved here — cost, complexity, your past experience, your time and ability to undertake legal research, the availability of competent local counsel, and more — that I don’t think I can offer a ready-made one-size-fits-all approach to determining whether someone needs to hire an attorney in a certain circumstance.
The most weighty consideration may well be whether you can afford the worst possible outcome *without* an attorney.
Some types of cases are less likely than others to need attorney representation. Plenty of divorces are done pro se — that means “without attorneys” — especially when children aren’t involved and the parties don’t have significant assets. (This doesn’t mean all divorces are done pro se. You and your spouse may still need legal representation in a divorce.)
Criminal cases are something different. While “slap on the wrist” light-punishments may often be expected for first time misdemeanor offenders, judges do have some latitude in sentencing. Felony sentencing is harsher than misdemeanor sentencing. If there’s a way to avoid getting convicted so that you never have to deal with sentencing, that’s an attractive option and a reason to consider hiring an attorney instead of representing yourself.
An attorney can help you determine whether there is a legal way to avoid conviction. A competent attorney may be able to find defenses that you didn’t know were available to you, negotiate with the prosecutor for a more favorable plea bargain than you might be offered alone, and draft motions to make sure that you have all the materials necessary to present your case in the light most favorable to you. Your attorney is there to try to show the jury how to get to reasonable doubt so that you don’t get convicted, to make sure the state plays “by the rules” and only uses admissible evidence against you, and to keep track of what happens and preserve a record for any possible appeals.
Attorneys can be expensive but in many cases, they’re an absolutely indispensable part of making sure your life isn’t overrun by a system that’s designed to try, convict, and punish.
Information current as of posting. Changes in the law since the time of posting can affect the validity of this post. Check the current Iowa code or check with an attorney to determine whether this post correctly defines the parameters of the law as it now exists. This post applies to convicted persons who are age 18 and older. Different code sections apply for persons under the age of 18. Ask your attorney or check the Iowa Code to determine whether the Iowa crime you’ve been charged with is a felony or a misdemeanor so that you know what to expect at sentencing. If you’re facing misdemeanor charges but aren’t yet sure whether you want to talk to an attorney, here are some initial steps you can take to help yourself.
If you decide to go to trial without a criminal attorney, here’s a handy guide to your right to self-representation. If you get convicted on your own of a felony or some misdemeanor offenses, be prepared for your presentence investigation.
This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be relied on as legal advice. Consult with a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.