If You Want Something Done Right, Do It Yourself (Unless You Are Being Sued)
We are all very familiar with the saying, "if you want something done right, do it yourself", but is that always the best advice? Well, when it comes to defending yourself in a lawsuit, the answer is "NO." In fact, I will remind you of another saying; "He who represents himself has a fool for a client."
While there are many things that we can do for ourselves, it is generally never a good idea to attempt to handle your own defense of a civil lawsuit. The best way to illustrate this point is with a story.
We will call our subject Bob. The situation is that Bob owned a construction company which unfortunately went out of business last year. Despite his company's closure, Bob finds himself and his now-defunct company on the wrong side of a lawsuit. Bob, knowing that the claim arises out of work that he performed under his company, decides that he doesn't need to hire an attorney since it is out of business. He realizes that he appears to be sued as an individual but believes that it is directly related to the company, and therefore, he should be able to represent himself.
Of course, Bob wants to be safe concerning his decision to represent himself in the lawsuit, so he calls on his old high school buddy John, who is also in construction, for some advice. His buddy John explains that he never uses an attorney and instead writes his contracts and other legal documents and has never had a problem. "More importantly," John advises, "It costs so much money to hire a lawyer, and for what? Your company is out of business." Feeling reassured, Bob begins to prepare his defense.
As Bob begins to search for a form online to answer the Complaint, he starts to feel slightly uncertain. There is terminology that he isn't very familiar with. So, Bob decides it's time to call in the big guns. Thus, he calls in Attorney Google for some answers. Of course, he finds a wealth of information on Google simply by searching, "do I need an attorney to represent me?" After ignoring the links suggesting that he does, Bob finds definitions for the terminology and realizes that so many people represent themselves that there is now no doubt in his mind that he can do it just as good as those high-priced attorneys.
Feeling rather proud of himself, Bob files his Answer with the Court. Shortly after that, he receives a package from the Plaintiff's attorney containing many Discovery Demands. Immediately, he gets Attorney Google on the case again and does his best to respond. Bob then receives a notice for his deposition. He is confident he is good to go. His testimony is taken and he is satisfied with his performance. He is ready for his day in Court to arrive.
Unexpectedly, he received a Motion for Summary Judgment. The Motion states that Bob has no defenses listed in his Answer, provided documents that support the Plaintiff's claims, and makes damning statements at his deposition. The Plaintiff's attorney argues that there are no questions of fact to submit to a jury, and thus, a judgment should be awarded against Bob.
As Bob reads the Motion, beads of sweat begin to form on his forehead. "Oh sh*t," is all that he can utter. Once he calms down, he calls John. "Hey man, he says. I took your advice, didn't hire an attorney, and now I have this motion thing. I'm screwed. What should I do?" John tells him that it is time for him to hire an attorney.
Bob, who is now panicked, starts frantically searching for an attorney to represent him. Instead of finding eager attorneys, he is told that the case is too far gone and that he has "shot himself in the foot." No one is interested in representing him. Ultimately, Bob tries to oppose the Motion on his own, fails miserably, and is now the proud owner of a judgment against him personally.
The moral of the story is simple, don't be like Bob. Litigation is rarely easy and is almost always unpredictable. You cannot learn to be a lawyer on the Internet or from a friend. Google does not make a good law partner. Lawyers spend years in school and in practice and are constantly learning about updated laws and cases. While you think you are saving money by trying to defend yourself, you are causing far more harm than good.
Had Bob hired a lawyer immediately, the lawyer would have been able to file a Motion to Dismiss on the grounds that Bob was protected by the LLC and could not be held personally liable. Instead, Bob now faces a Judgment that is four times higher than what an attorney would have charged him to represent him.
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