Do I Have a Fool for a Client if I Represent Myself Instead of Hiring an Attorney?
A favorite slogan of the legal profession is that anyone who attempts to defend himself in a court of law, rather than retaining an attorney, "has a fool for a client." Any legal matter, no matter how basic, should be discussed with a lawyer who specializes in that particular area of the law. Time and time again, I take phone calls from defendants after their case is over who have various legal problems because they represented themselves. It could be as basic as saving someone points on a traffic ticket, avoiding license suspensions or avoiding potential incarceration, and usually I am unable to help them after-the-fact. In almost every situation, these individuals contact me too late for me to be able to do anything about their problem. Once a case reaches "final disposition", there is a limited time to appeal the case. Any legal matter, no matter how basic, should be discussed with a lawyer
On a criminal matter, there is only 10 days to file a Motion for Reconsideration, in which a judge can hear additional evidence in an attempt to change his mind and award a more lenient sentence.
For traffic tickets, an individual has 30 days to appeal the ticket to the Court of Common Pleas, and if filed timely, a new hearing is scheduled in the county courthouse.
A client came to me recently with a speeding ticket where the speed triggered a license suspension (and 5 points on his license). He did not call an attorney for legal advice and simply paid the ticket. He was shocked when he received a letter from the Department of Transportation suspending his license as a result. He told me he was unaware of the consequences which is the exact reason he should have consulted with an attorney. Luckily, he contacted me within the 30 day appeal period, so he was able to appeal the ticket, appeal the suspension, and we were eventually able to negotiate the ticket so that he did not lose his license. Had he contacted an attorney immediately, he would have saved himself the stress (and money as he wound up paying substantially more for legal fees and court filing fees because of the complexity of the matter).
I always tell clients that I am not a mechanic, so when my car breaks down I wouldn't dream of trying to fix it because I would do more harm then good. I am not a plumber so when my pipes leak in my house I call a plumber. The same is true in a criminal case or a traffic case. When the police and prosecutor have a case where the defendant is unrepresented, they can take advantage of that situation because the individual may not realize that he has a viable defense to the charges. Issues arise, such as suppression of an illegal stop, for example, of which a non-attorney would not be aware. Police and the court are not required to tell an unrepresented defendant what the consequences are if convicted. Do not go to court and represent yourself and have a fool for a client. Always seek legal advice on any legal matter from an attorney who specializes in criminal/traffic defense.