Hiring a personal injury attorney is often very expensive, and some personal injury plaintiffs may decide to forgo hiring attorneys and save money on legal fees by representing themselves in court. Self-representation or pro se representation is risky, even in 2019; the average person with no legal training or formal legal education may not know how to navigate the court system, meet case filing requirements, or where to look for different types of compensation. However, it is possible for some individuals to succeed with personal injury claims without hiring attorneys.
Attorneys complete years of formal schooling and undergo rigorous testing and certification processes to practice law. Most attorneys develop large networks of professional contacts in their geographic practice areas, and experienced attorneys typically know how the local court system handles certain types of cases. By comparison, the average person may not have any contacts or experience with the local court at all.
In a small claims dispute, hiring an attorney probably is not necessary, nor is it essential if the other party in the case does not have representation. However, a plaintiff who opts for pro se representation risks making seemingly small mistakes that may not only jeopardize his or her case but also lead to legal penalties. For example, filling out required paperwork incorrectly could lead to an unexpected charge of fraud, and missing a filing deadline with the court could compel a judge to throw out the case entirely.
A plaintiff who decides to pursue pro se representation should prepare for extensive research into the court system, the laws pertaining to the type of case to be filed, and what to expect from the entire legal process, including the courtroom trial. A pro se plaintiff must familiarize him or herself with the rules of civil procedure for the courthouse in which he or she intends to file his or her personal injury complaint.
If an injured plaintiff can manage the time, resources, and effort required to thoroughly research a personal injury lawsuit, he or she may stand to secure more compensation than would have been possible with an attorney. This may be simply due to the fact that attorneys’ fees are notoriously expensive and a pro se plaintiff does not need to pay them. However, the pro se plaintiff should prepare to pay for all case-related expenses out of pocket until he or she obtains a settlement or case verdict.
A pro se plaintiff must handle his or her own discovery and appear for all required court sessions. The pro se plaintiff should also expect to respond to all motions from the opposing party as quickly as possible. For example, the opposition may file a motion for summary judgment, which if granted compels the judge to deliver a ruling on the case using the available facts and evidence. The pro se plaintiff must respond to this very quickly, and this requires the plaintiff to file his or her own motion explaining why the judge should not grant the motion for summary judgment.
A pro se plaintiff should aim for a settlement outside of court if possible. Although a personal injury claim’s trial value could be significantly more than its settlement value, obtaining a satisfactory settlement is faster and can be a much less stressful resolution to the plaintiff’s issue. If the case proceeds to a trial, the plaintiff should expect to act as his or her own attorney in trial. This means asking legally appropriate questions of the defendant and the defense’s witnesses, the witnesses the pro se plaintiff calls to the stand, and abiding by the rules of the court as a plaintiff.
Pro se representation is possible for both plaintiffs and defendants. In either situation, a self-representing party should prepare for lengthy research into the evidence involved in the case as well as the case law for the particular area of law under which the case falls. The pro se party should also look for public records for similar cases and use the rulings in those cases as points of reference while building a lawsuit or a defense against a lawsuit.