You know, we get that question a lot. Earlier in our careers, we were always a little perplexed by the question because, from a lawyer’s perspective, it was a little like asking: “Why hire a surgeon?” Or “Why hire a plumber?” Typically when we would respond with those questions to our potential clients, we could see the little lightbulb “turn on” over our potential client’s head. They’d realize that they didn’t have the expertise to fix their problem just like they couldn’t perform surgery on themselves or, even, fix a problem with their sink.
Now, with the benefit of experience and hindsight, we realize that the more appropriate answer is “unless you have the expertise to handle the legal issue yourself, you need to hire a lawyer.” And, importantly, even if you do have the legal expertise required, you still need to hire a lawyer.
As Abraham Lincoln so eloquently said: “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” The United States Supreme Court has even weighed in on the issue, quoting a law professor’s statement that “a pro se defense is usually a bad defense.”
President Lincoln’s adage and Supreme Court’s effective concurrence is never more apropos than in a criminal context (when someone has been accused of a crime) for at least several reasons.
First, the lawyer that you hire should have many years-worth of relationships in place with the various prosecuting and law enforcement agencies. These relationships are invaluable to successful negotiations in your case.
Second, and along those same lines, prosecutors are not going to treat an individual who is representing themselves (what lawyers call “pro per or pro se” the same as a private attorney – not because they are unfairly treating “pro per or pro se” defendants differently, but because they have to treat them differently to be able to do their job.
Put another way, what your lawyer says to a prosecutor is not evidence. What you say to a prosecutor could be evidence and now the prosecutor could be a witness to your statement – particularly harmful if you’ve made an admission of guilt. Accordingly, prosecutors will often not discuss the facts of the case in detail with someone who is representing themselves for fear of becoming a witness in the case. With this limitation on all communications, negotiation is, at best, complicated and, at worst, nearly impossible.
Third, very, very few people have the ability to emotionally detach themselves from a legal situation that they are personally and intimately involved in. Even for lawyers who represent themselves, rational and objective judgment is oftentimes replaced by feelings of the fear of the unknown, anxiety, maybe anger, and certainly stress. This is a true statement for nearly everyone – whether a trained lawyer or someone with no legal experience.
As lawyers with nearly 40 years of experience between us, we can remain rational and objective and we have the relationships with the prosecuting agencies across the State of Arizona to be able to effectively negotiate and litigate a case.
In sum, when a personally invested emotional state is combined with the complexities and nuances of criminal defense, the answer becomes obvious: “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.”
“Jay provided impeccable attention to my case. He knew the law, communicated it to me precisely, heard my concerns, answered my questions, alleviated my fear, and negotiated a fair, streamlined settlement. He was always friendly and upbeat, and in the end I could breathe a sigh of relief and feel satisfied that the very best had been done for me.”