Lewis Hulatt, family consultant solicitor with Major Family Law who is based in Surrey, formerly of Wellers Hedley, Surrey, comments as follows:
There is a pearl of wisdom that a person who acts for themselves has a fool for a client. As this adage is followed by ‘and a lawyer who represents themselves is an even bigger fool’ the cynical will be disappointed that it is not an arrogant example of lawyer self-interest. We can all be ‘foolish’ and lawyers, greater ones.
Some foreign lawyers I was chatting to on-line were shocked to learn that in England, people are not obliged to have professional legal representation, no matter how complicated or serious the case. In our system, a person is entitled to full rights of audience for their own case wherever it is heard. Whether or not Joe Public can have a ‘fair’ trial when great legal minds (they always seem to be ‘great’ in written reports) are arrayed against them is debateable.
The time and expertise of lawyers is not cheap, even if it can sometimes be good value, despite the cost. With Legal Aid for ‘hard-working families’ a distant memory, is sourcing competent legal help impossible outside of the realm of oligarchs?
Of course, those with both money and problems can engage lawyers to be ‘my people’ to whom the case is largely handed-over, but that does not mean that if somebody needs help and cannot write an open cheque, they have ‘foolishness’ forced upon them.
I am sure that some lawyers are domineering ‘control freaks’ who always know best, but I would like to think that the best lawyers have the humility to listen, reflect and advise, not simply direct.
Most lawyers will have had experience of reckless clients who can hardly give their name without blurting out something harmful to their case, but many of my clients have been sensible people who just happen to have something that needs sorting out. People successfully manage their lives, so perhaps they can trust themselves to manage their own cases. What they really need is assistance from somebody with experience and expertise which along with an understanding attitude and clear guidance gives them the confidence to represent themselves. Clients may want some distance between them and the person with whom they have a problem, so having a lawyer as intermediary may be a sensible option, but it should be a choice, not an imposition.
So – I don’t think that a person who represents themselves is a ‘fool’, although a lawyer doing so may still be a great one…