When to Seek Legal Advice | The Pros and Cons of Acting as Your Own Attorney

Can you be your own lawyer?

Yes. Maybe. No. Sort of.

In truth, it really depends on the situation. For the easy stuff? Sure. For the more difficult things? Probably not. The big problem is how do you know what is DIY-friendly and what isn’t?

A good comparison that I like to use is this: Can you fix your own car? Well, it depends on your automotive know-how, general handiness, the tools and equipment you have, and the scope of your project. A lay person with a modern car can typically replace the wiper blades, top off some of the fluids, maybe even change the oil. However, if the repair requires replacing worn piston rings, most people would recognize that as a big job and seek out a technician who knows what he’s doing.

The same thing can be said about doing your own legal work – you can (and should) do some things yourself, but other, more complex procedures are best left to those with the right skills and training. While this seems very intuitive, knowing when to turn to an expert and for what is a hard task. In law, like in modern auto repairs, the help a layperson needs is twofold:

  1. Diagnosing the problem; and
  2. Proposing and implementing the right solution.

Knowing when to seek some help only becomes more difficult with the mounds of available online advice and with many popular self-help websites. Many of them promise solutions without having any way to know what the underlying problems are. To again use an automotive analogy, this is akin to a mechanic offering to sell you a part or perform a service without even seeing your car or knowing anything about it. This is one of the underlying reasons for Consumer Reports finding that legal DIY websites are no match for hands-on legal professionals.

So, what can you do?

  1. Find a lawyer who focuses on working with people like you. For example, if you have a startup, find a lawyer who mostly works with startups. He or she is more likely to deal with your specific issues and will know to provide doable payment options.
  1. Find a lawyer who is technologically savvy, and uses the latest efficiency tools. Look at it this way: If your attorney knows how to use technology to become more efficient, then he or she has the ability to provide services to you at a lower cost.  For example, sending documents by mail for review or signature is more costly and time-consuming than using a secure electronic file transfer service.
  1. Look for a trusted website that efficiently puts you together with a lawyer. A simple lawyer listing or referral service is the modern equivalent of a phone book and is not very useful. Look for a trusted website that will walk you through part of an intake process and then put you together with an attorney. That is money saved for you.  If you can arrange a free consultation through the site, that is a bonus.

In conclusion, you will be better off consulting with a lawyer, especially for things that are important to you – such as your business, which is your livelihood. The key is finding and working with the right lawyer in a way that works for your needs and your budget.

 

If you are interested in more detail related to your situation it is best to speak with an attorney.

Andrei Tsygankov is the Co-Founder and COO of SmartUp® and a partner at Founders Legal (Bekiares Eliezer LLP). As an attorney, Andrei specializes in corporate, commercial, trademark, and international business matters.

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