When our lawsuit began, I did not know much about lawyers or what a lawyer’s work entails. To me, lawyers were intelligent, assertive, fearless, articulate and opinionated. As I did not think I had such qualities, I never aspired to become a lawyer. Furthermore, I thought that all lawyers were equally competent to practice in all areas of law. I believed that lawyers learned everything they needed from law school, as if these were “keys of knowledge”. Surprisingly, I did become a lawyer. And I realized how wrong I was about all these assumptions!
I am surprised to learn how challenging it is to be a lawyer, never mind just getting through law school. Legal reasoning is hard work. Recognizing the legal issues in a client’s matter takes a lot of skill and effort. The vast amount of knowledge that is required even for a single area of law is staggering, not to mention the skills required for eliciting testimony, and crafting persuasive arguments. In addition, the learning never ends. We have to keep up with the ever changing rules and case law. And we learn something new in every case. A senior lawyer once told me that you have to love being a student in this profession. He told me that even with 40 years of experience, he still continued to learn new things. To date, my work has never been routine. Often, I find myself constantly mulling over client cases, hoping to come up with solutions in the off hours.
When lawyers and judges discourage self-representation, we cannot assume that this is motivated entirely from self interest. I now realize that it is more likely due to the fact that most lawyers and judges know how much work they themselves have had to put in to learn all the necessary skills that would enable them to represent someone. Going to court is more than just “telling your story”. This is not something I would have known, had I not become a lawyer.
I still wish that everyone could simply tell their story to a judge without special training. The reality is that the process is necessarily complex to ensure a fair process. This leads to the inevitable consequence that experts (lawyers) are required to engage in the legal process effectively. But we should not despair over this realization. There are many people who are working hard to streamline the procedures, judges who try to assist self-represented litigants, and lawyers such as the Self-Rep Navigators who offer coaching (education and advice) and limited representation services. I hope that more lawyers will offer limited scope services and turn universal access to justice a reality.
p.s. If you are one of those lawyers, don’t forget to add your name to the NSRLP National Database of Professionals Assisting SRLs!