The Dangers of pro se in the Georgia Courtroom

Pro se means to represent one’s self in a legal proceeding

To do or not to do is a difficult decision for any debt collection lawsuit defendant to make, after all, how do you know what you don’t know?

Before we delve into the pro se issue, let’s think about what representation means within the context of any legal proceeding. At one time or another, everyone has heard the phrase “…you have the right to an attorney, if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you…” probably on a TV law drama. Well, one important thing to remember about this is that the concept of appointed attorney is typically reserved for criminal proceedings, not civil proceedings. The law doesn’t provide you with an attorney in civil debt collection matters, but the law does provide you the right to represent yourself in actions to which you are a party.

The decision whether or not to hire an attorney in your legal matter is your own. Obviously, a lawyer is going to know how to navigate the legal system whereas a layperson may find themselves completely lost in the legalese and mind numbing procedural rules. The choice to not hire an attorney can certainly be to your detriment. People who represent themselves in legal proceedings can make seemingly simple mistakes that have a disastrous impact on the outcome.

The obvious – attorneys have the home field advantage in a court room. A layperson does not. In fact, you may face some bias from the judge, other attorneys, clerks, and opposing counsel when representing yourself. And the reason is simple – most pro se litigants are a frustrating cog in the wheel of the everyday business of court.

And lets just be honest with ourselves – if you’re facing a law suit here in Georgia and thinking about going pro se, you may even  face the phenomena of the “good ol boy” cronyism of attorneys and judges in rural Georgia .  What do I mean by that?  Well, the further you get away from the urbanized metro Atlanta into the backwoods, small town where every body knows each others’ business – you face the “good ol’ boys”.  These guys see each other day in and day out and hell, they may even have gone to law school together or known each other for 30 years.  I’m not saying there’s some weird conspiracy, although it is not unheard of, I am simply eluding to the fact that sometimes its easier for the judge to “go with the flow” rather than disrupt the normal every day status quo of debt collection lawsuit adjudication in the favor of the debt collection lawyer.

It is hard to say whether or not you will be taken seriously as a pro se litigant in court. In my experience, I was treated with respect from the court and by the Judge. I was treated equally to that of my opposing counsel. I believe that is the way it should be. I was also very prepared and highly respectful to the court.

Some individuals have taken a hybrid approach to securing legal representation, part pro se and part hired counsel. To save money, some individuals will start off their case by drafting their own documents and attempting to learn the system. Their plan is to hire the attorney to do the talking in court. The fatal flaw to this plan, however, is that any little mistake in the beginning of the case could be fatal the case itself. It is certainly possible that even the lawyer you end up hiring to do the talking in court won’t be able to undo what damage you have done while acting pro se.

Bottom line is, if you don’t have the time, will, or aptitude to learn the legal requirements of defending your own case, do yourself a favor and get a lawyer.  This is what they do day in and day out.  You’ll certainly sleep better at night as well!

The National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) has a “Find an Attorney” section within their website where you can find a consumer attorney in your area.  To go to that site, click here.

You can usually find a consumer attorney by searching through the cases filed within your jurisdictions online dockets – look for defendant attorneys and see who’s prevalent in your area.  Don’t stop there, make sure to do a little more research to make sure they are what you are looking for. You can even look up some of the court of appeals decisions favorable to consumer defendants and see who represented them there.  A few I can think of off hand are Daniel  DeWoskin, Lawrence Silverman and William Carlisle. All of which are in the Atlanta metro area and have handled cases in the area of debt collection defense.


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