UPDATED: JULY 11, 2019
Article by: Daniel A. Levy, Esq.
Very frequently, I speak with clients who complain that they appeared in court but the judge just wouldn’t listen to them. They ask me what I can do for them after the first appearance did not go their way. Below I discuss some common issues that people face when going to court alone, and why an attorney may have much more success.
Most commonly, people appear without attorneys in traffic ticket matters and in Family Court regarding issues like visitation, custody, and child support. The reason for this is that litigants are almost required to have attorneys for most other types of litigation (not technically required, but so strongly encouraged that almost everyone does get an attorney). Reluctant to incur the expense of hiring counsel, those individuals assume that they can simply explain everything to the judge and the judge will of course listen to what they have to say and take their side. But this rarely occurs.
Frequently, people without attorneys do not really understand the legal issues. Nor do they appreciate how the court procedures work. Nor do they understand how to present a concise and persuasive argument. Rather, the unrepresented litigant would like to tell “the whole story” to the judge. And the judge will usually be very reluctant to listen to a protracted narrative that is mostly irrelevant to the case. Also, regular folks are not experts at presenting arguments. And unfortunately, poor presentation often gives the impression that the person lacks credibility. In short, the judge isn’t listening to you because you’re not making a clear, persuasive point, and the judge has simply lost patience.
Trial lawyers are experts in presentation and know the laws and court procedures. Hiring us to represent you in one of the many courts that we routinely appear in is a good step to overcoming the hurdles that you would face on your own. Remember, each court appearance has a specific purpose. Your lawyer will know that and know how to address that issue. Your lawyer will not tell “the whole story” to the judge – just the relevant facts and legal arguments that are germane to that appearance. And the proper presentation that a lawyer can make lends credibility to the client’s case.
To be sure, judges are not biased against people who appear without lawyers. They do not like lawyers better than non-lawyers, and they will not rule against you just because you don’t have a lawyer. However, judges are people, and like most other people, they tend to agree with arguments that are concise, to the point, and persuasively presented. And usually, the type of person that is most suited to make that presentation is a lawyer.