Robert Verkaik: Dispensing with your lawyer can prove costly

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The Independent Online

Few environments are more daunting than a courtroom packed with lawyers skilled in the dark arts of litigation – and few litigants-in-person are successful.

Most unrepresented members of the public fall at the first hurdle and fail to prove they have an arguable case. In the majority of first-instance cases, there is little flexibility in law and a judge's hands are tied by clear statutes. To try to overcome such obstacles is the legal equivalent of King Canute's entreaties to the disobedient tides.

Even if the amateur litigant has an arguable case, representing oneself in court can be frustrating and distressing. A deep understanding of the facts or knowledge of the opponent does not always translate into persuasive argument.

Many litigants-in-person are also unprepared for the formality of the occasion and find themselves stumbling for words or freezing at the judge's first question.

Worse, some end up doing more harm than good by disclosing damaging information that even a barrister fresh out of law school would know not to volunteer.

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