Wouldn’t you like to go into court with a posse, a team of people to come to your aid when you need them? While there’s nothing quite like a sports team in litigation, you can have a ragtag legal team, as long as you don’t go all formal about it.
There are some relationships, in fact, in the legal arena that you should hone and utilize to your best ability. If you do that, you’ve got your team. Consider the important things people in the positions below can do for you, and make them part of your team, if only in your mind.
7. Court Clerk
Let’s start with the things court clerks can’t do. By law, they can’t answer legal questions or give legal advice. They can’t help you write a motion or pleading or tell you how a judge might rule in a particular case. Luckily, they can still make your life easier. In every jurisdiction, they’ve gone out of their way to make court information more accessible to pro se litigants.
What’s the best thing that court clerks do? Their jobs. For your case to move along as it should, you need (1) an accurate record of court filings, dates, parties, and events; (2) an open and fair means to communicate with the judge and other parties in the case; and (3) accurate processing of filings in the case. That’s all you need from court clerks, and that’s what they do well. Consider them a silent yet critical part of your team.
6. Friends and Family
Litigation can be an isolating experience. In fact, most people don’t want friends and family to know they’re in litigation. They’re embarrassed, especially when they’ve been sued for failure to pay a debt, or they’re in a child custody dispute. Let’s face it, we live in a country where lack of money can bring harsh criticism, judgments about our worth, and other forms of shaming. Involvement in a divorce or other family law case can bring even harsher “punishment”. So people keep to themselves.
But if you have someone you trust and can go to for moral support when you’ve been handed a troubling ruling, litigation is a little easier to bear. Keep family and friends on your legal team when they can help in this way.
5. Unbundled Lawyer
Lawyer? Yes, lawyer. In some jurisdictions, lawyers can provide unbundled or limited services. It’s not like full representation where a lawyer simply takes the case for $5000 and you’re off the hook until he needs more money.
With unbundled services, you pay a lawyer only for a specific task, like writing a motion or appearing for a hearing. In order for unbundled services to work, you have to know your own case and be able to explain to a lawyer exactly what you need. If you can do that, you have a powerful resource and ally. One of the best things about unbundled services is that you can stay in control of your case while getting focused help from lawyers.
4. Private Investigator
When you hear about private investigators in litigation, you think most often about a divorce case where a PI is hired to take pictures of a spouse getting frisky with someone who is not their spouse. Yet there are many other ways private investigators can support your team.
Private investigators can research a company, including analyzing its history, financial records, and legal woes. They can observe events, like visitation in child custody cases, and report to the court. They can take pictures and analyze them to create evidence in an injury case. Many are also licensed to serve summons and subpoenas, and they’re less expensive than some of the other friends on this list. It pays to have a private investigator on your legal team.
3. Forensic Examiner
Similar in many ways to a private investigator, the forensic examiner provides expertise in a single area rather than multiple ones. During the height of the foreclosure crisis, forensic examiners were hired to analyze documents submitted to courts as proof of ownership interest in properties. These examiners read deeds, mortgages, assignments of mortgages, and so on to determine their authenticity. They found a lot of fraud. As a result, many homeowners who could afford a forensic examiner were able to save their homes or live in them much longer than anticipated.
Forensic examiners may specialize in computer forensics, where they inspect computer and online data, including social media profiles and conversations. They can analyze phone records, data stored on laptops and tablets, and data in the cloud. Consider the forensic examiner when you need an in-depth look at the evidence in your case.
2. Expert Witness
Expert witnesses testify at trial or in depositions on matters in which they have great knowledge or proficiency. Like attorneys, investigators, and forensic examiners, expert witnesses can be expensive. You should know enough about your case to hire them strategically–only when you need them and for a limited purpose.
Expert witnesses can help the judge or jury make sense of certain issues in your case. For instance, if your case involves medical malpractice where a physician misdiagnosed the pain in your patella, you’d want to hire a doctor who’s an expert in patella injuries. Someone with specific training or knowledge in the area of the patella will be far more credible than, say, a general practitioner. A lot of work and resources goes into selecting, preparing, setting up, and confirming expert witnesses. But when you have one on your legal team, you may be able to knock the case out of the ballpark.
1. Court Reporter
If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you knew this was coming. Over and above all the other professionals, a court reporter can save your case. Indeed, we can’t stress enough the importance of having a court reporter on your team. Some courts provide them for free, so if you live in one of those jurisdictions, you’re good to go. The rest of us must hire our own on the private market. At a price far lower than most other team members here, and at a higher value, court reporters are priceless.
There is no better “check” on the behavior of an attorney or judge than the presence of a court reporter. A court reporter records everything that’s said at a hearing. To appeal a bad decision, you need a record of the hearing or trial. A court reporter provides that for you. Even though you hire them, they’re not on anyone’s side. Rather, they are required by law to be neutral and to perform tasks that make the legal process go smoothly. Luckily, that’s all you need them to do–their jobs. So, while they may not be on your side per se, they’re a critical part of a fair case. For that reason, they’re second to none as a member of your legal team.
To succeed as a pro se litigant, put your best foot forward and your best team on the field.
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