Choosing to Represent Yourself Partially or Fully

You probably wouldn't want to represent yourself in a criminal trial because too much can go wrong and there might be too much at stake. And the courts can and will appoint an attorney for you in criminal matters if you can't afford one. But for smaller civil matters and many HOA issues, self-representation can be effective and much cheaper than full representation from an attorney. But still it's risky. Some judges tolerate an inexperienced person in the courtroom well--others don't like it all and may boot you out the door untill you get representation and it could end up costing you more anyway.

Pro Se in your HOA

Pro se means you are going to act as your own attorney, but this should never be taken lightly in a society of rampart litigation and attorneys who feed off the sue-happy gravy train. When you become your own attorney and face a well trained and experienced attorney who knows every dirty trick in the book, you are at a huge disadvantage. And many say that those who represent themselves have a fool for a client. Yet according to Assistant Professor Erica J. Hashimoto, in the North Carolina Law Review, found that the rate of success was similar whether one represented themselves or had an attorney.

...in both state and federal court, the empirical evidence undermines the assumption that pro se defendants necessarily are ill-served by the decision to self-represent.
Of course Hashimoto was looking only at criminal cases. It is generally believed that pro se representation is dismal but there are not many good records from which to draw that conclusion. And today most states provide a lot of help and free forms for those that want to go it on their own.

Legal Services a la Carte Might Be for You

Because the cost of hiring an attorney has become so prohibitive in the last 25 years, many people are choosing to partially represent themselves. In a partial representation, a litigant can contract with an attorney to do a lot of the work him or her self and even appear in court themselves, leaving the parts of litigation to the attorney they are not comfortable with. This is called "limited-scope representation" or "LSR." It works like this. You may contract with an attorney to counsel you on how to file the papers and have him go to court. Or you may decide to have the attorney do the paperwork so it is done properly and you appear to represent yourself. The attorney and litigant may allocate the duties and responsibilities for handling a legal matter between themselves in any number of combinations. In addition, it is more likely that an attorney can charge a flat fee pricing to complete tasks you agree on rather than charge by the hour.

In Grass Valley where Shelly (of HOA Warrior) decided to become an advocate, the Concerned Property Owners decided to hire an attorney but they did a lot of the work themselves. Behind the public scene, members did research on the law, background searches on the board members, scoured the documents and archives to give information to their attorney. Their attorney stated that all the research and applicable laws that members found saved them huge amounts of money. In the end, the association attorney charged the Property Owners Association over $80,000 but the Concerned Property Owners only had a $16,000 bill!

Even though risky, some people for economic reasons have no choice but to try representing themselves. If this is the method you choose, consider LSR to increase your chances of getting the info needed to the judge or jury. Do your research, educate yourself, and use a professional as much as you have the funds for.

Cons of Self-representation

  • Pro se is a burden to the courts because of the confusion inexperienced brings to the courts
  • Judges can get frustrated with you--not good
  • If using LSR, counsel may escape a malpractice claim even if they were grossly negligent
  • The professional you face knows all the dirty tricks and you don't
  • It's very complicated figuring out what the law is much less how to mount a case
  • There are many laws that apply to HOAs and they are often contradictory

Resources

An estimated 3 out of 5 people in civil cases go to court without a lawyer. Get the proper foundation laid first.