He Who Is His Own Lawyer Has a Fool for a Client

"He Who Is His Own LawyerHas a Fool for a Client"

This proverb is based on the opinion thatself-representation in court is likely to end badly. As with many proverbs, itis difficult to determine a precise origin, but this expression first beganappearing in print in the early 1900’s. An early example appears in 1814, in The flowers of wit, or a choice collection ofbon mots, by Henry Kett, wherein the eminent lawyer states, "I hesitatenot to pronounce, that every man who is his own lawyer, has a fool for aclient.”

This phrase remains relevant today, as it was nearly 200years ago, successfully standing against the test of time. It makes a clear andsimple statement to one who might think they are smart enough and know thefacts of their case well enough that they might save several thousand dollarsby handling their own legal affairs. While handling your case Pro Se mightactually work in some instances, the odds are against it.

In a recent article on Lawyers.com (GoingPro Se: Handling Legal Problems on Your Own), David Baarlaer explains that you can indeed win a Pro Se case, but alsoshares that statistics seem to indicate that those who “lawyer up” stand abetter chance at achieving a favorable outcome. Even though youmight be able to represent yourself, you would, in effect, be knowingly andintentionally taking unnecessary risks in the litigation of your case.

Sharpen Your Focus
Does this old saying apply to lawyers too? Today’s economicclimate encourages attorneys to do everything they can possibly do themselves,or keep the work in-house, in order to keep working (billing) on a matter.While this approach will increase your billable hours, it can also upset your clients.A quick search on alternative fee arrangements or the billable hour will show thatlegal fees are a hot topic. LarryBodine shared an interesting article about AFA’s (alternative fee arrangements),in which he points out that those who don’t get it right will see clients startwalking and talking to other firms to take on their work. Corporate counsel andother clients are all under pressure to reduce costs, and legal fees are at thetop of their list. Just because you have the ability to purchase some softwareor other new toy, spend time to learn it, and then do something with it doesnot mean that you should. If you insist on doing everything yourself, in theshort term, you might make more money per client. In the long term, you’re likelyto end up with fewer clients.

Experts are Experts
Most clients won’t appreciate that special talent you bringto the table which allows you to personally do things that others can docheaper, faster, or even better. If you’re trying a case, you shouldn’t beconcerned with how the technology works (or doesn’t work). If your case andclient are valuable to you (not to mention your reputation), there are not manygood reasons left to do everything by yourself. You might be retained to “getit done,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean you were retained to do ityourself.

I have seen a growing trend of cases coming in that are economicallydriven, in that lawyers are hired to try the case, while my firm is hired bycounsel to assist with trial preparation and presentation. No, the law firmsare not marking our services up for a profit, but the clients are happy withthe lower costs, and the fact that these services are being handled byexperts. While there are certainly exceptions, the lawyer who insists on doingeverything, in addition to practicing law, may not be too far removed from theclient who represents himself.

Please feel free to add your thoughts and comments on this topic.

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