Since I have starting practicing personal injury law in 1994, the internet was still in development. Now, the internet has become so common that it has effected the way we run our everyday lives. With the explosion of the wealth of information on the web, people feel empowered to handle their own claims by researching internet articles and blog posts. I call this person the “Google Attorney.”
Over the last 5 years or so, I have noticed a drastic increase in clients representing themselves in their cases and then coming to a lawyer when everything doesn’t work out like they planned. Either they believe that they can handle the case themselves, or they are following the advice of friends and family who try to help them handle their case. They also refer to the internet to get answers to legal questions about their case. This Google Attorney also thinks they can save money by trying to represent themselves, when in fact, they are doing irreparable harm to their case.
Being a lawyer involves so much more than just making an argument. Most lay people seem to believe that they can effectively negotiate a settlement for themselves. Arguing your case is only about 5% of practicing law. Rather, the practice of law is knowing your rights and being able to posture you case in such a way for the best possible outcome. This requires an in-depth knowledge of not only the substantive law that effects you case, but also the rules of civil procedure and rules of evidence. People go to law school for three years and then enter a legal practice in order to hone their skills. Practicing law is not easy and is not something that you can learn as “do it yourself” matter. If you are trying to argue your case on matters that are irrelevant and inadmissible, then you will get nowhere. This is where a licensed and experienced attorney makes the difference.
Don’t make the mistakes of representing yourself. Insurance adjusters would love it if all claimants were unrepresented. It would make their jobs so much easier. But this comes at your expense. That is because the insurance companies know that when you handle your own case, you come to the bargaining table with no muscle. If the adjuster takes a position on your case, they know you do not have the ability to call their bluff and enforce your rights.
Another problem you face in representing yourself is failing to cover all your bases. Imagine your frustration if you settle your case only to find out that there are others out there making a claim for part of your settlement money. This could include hospital liens, health insurance subrogation claims, medicare and medicaid liens, etc. These are just some examples of how a settlement can turn into a nightmare if you were not prepared to deal with these issues.
I tell these “Google Attorneys” that trying to handle your own personal injury claim by reading different articles and blog posts is like trying to diagnose and treat a serious illness by visiting a medical website. Just like a doctor has the education, experience and tools necessary to treat an illness, an attorney has the specific education, experience and tools to protect your rights in a complex legal system.
By attempting to represent yourself, you run the risk of making your situation worse, thereby making your case even more difficult to resolve. Sometimes the damage can be so extensive that you will be unable to find a lawyer to take your case once you decide you are in over your head.