Hollywood actress Halle Berry recently made the news about her decision to drop her lawyer and represent herself. Her ex is represented by a lawyer.
Halle is making a mistake.
As a practicing attorney, I have to acknowledge that I have an interest in saying that an individual involved in any type of litigation needs a lawyer. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.
Here’s why having legal representation is critical:
- A lawyer has training in the applicable rules governing the type of case. I’m very outspoken about the failure of law schools to adequately train lawyers to try cases, but law schools do a decent job of teaching us the rules of procedure. Knowing and following the rules can mean the difference in a case outcome
- A lawyer can advise you about the applicable law for the case. I’m distinguishing between the technical rules of procedure referenced above and the law that the judge or jury must follow after hearing the facts. Knowing what the law permits and doesn’t permit is critical for decision making for your case
With enough time and research, a devoted individual may be able to find and learn the applicable rules and law for their situation. Why have a lawyer then?
- A trial lawyer has special training in presentation and advocacy skills designed to persuade the audience to favor their client. Trial skills are both an art and a science, and they are not necessarily intuitive
- With the combined knowledge of the rules, the law, and specialized training, a lawyer can help develop a strategy for a successful outcome long before the case actually goes to trial and advise the client about executing that plan in real time as the case develops, making adjustments as needed
- A lawyer levels the playing field. If Halle represents herself, she is supposed to follow the rules as if she is a lawyer, and she will largely have the ability to subpoena witnesses as a lawyer would. But she will simply not have the access and insight that a lawyer would have, and as a result every aspect of the case will be tilted against her: knowledge of the rules and how the rules are actually applied, knowledge of the applicable law and how the law is actually applied, what evidence is necessary and when it must be listed and produced, what witnesses are necessary and relevant and when they should be subpoenaed, then, once the case goes to court, knowing what to say and when to say it
- You cannot be objective about your case. Because you have such a vested interest in the outcome, and because of the heightened anxiety associated with litigation and trial, you are effectively blinded to what’s important for making decisions and for presenting evidence. A lawyer can help you think through both sides of each issue to help ensure that you preserve your credibility
Halle has previously been in court with an ex about the way he styled their daughter’s hair. With the capable assistance of her lawyer (the legendary Stephen Kolodny), Halle prevailed in that fight. Hopefully Halle will remember the value that a lawyer brings to a domestic dispute before it’s too late.