Lawyers are expensive, so it’s easy to want to do it yourself. But there are things you should look out for.

The legal industry might make it seem like a lawyer is your only option, but it isn’t true. You can to handle your case yourself. Not only is it possible, but you can also do it well. A lot depends on the complexity of your case and how much time you can devote to taking it on. Ask yourself these questions first.

  1. What can you really handle?
  2. What area of law is it?
  3. How serious is this to you?
  4. Will you have to go to court?
  5. Do you have the support of friends and family?

Let’s go over each of these.

1. What can you really handle?

Do an internal audit of your own bandwidth should be an ongoing process. The scope of a problem can quickly change. Take a gut check early and often. 

Do you have time?

Can you commit nights and weekends doing research and filling out forms? Can you squeeze in a phone call and some emails during a work break or before you pick up your kids? If you can’t make the time, this won’t be an easy problem to solve, especially if going to court is involved. 

Can you be resilient?

You may get frustrated along the way, even if you follow all the steps, rules or laws. You might have to file an appeal if things don’t go your way the first time. It can take years to solve certain legal problems. 

Are you okay with confrontation and uncomfortable conversations?

To get what you deserve, you might have to be assertive. This is true whether you’re dealing with the other person in a dispute, a government office, or other agencies — or even your own professional advisors. 

Do you have reliable internet access?

This may seem trivial, but without daily access to a computer and internet, it can be hard to communicate in a timely way, or do basic research. 

2. What area of the law is it?

Lawyers specialize in certain areas of the law for good reason. These areas can be complicated. Divorce laws, for example, are different from province to province and state to state. Some make it easy for the self-represented, others don’t. Do some research on your area of law to see how accessible it is for you. Do you understand how it works, generally? If reading summaries online still leaves you confused, perhaps consult a lawyer first to understand your options (you might have to spend a bit of money this way, but it could be worthwhile).

3. How serious is this to you?

Be honest: Is this something that has to be solved? Or is it simply … annoying? Imagine a scale of 1-10, with 10 being your most serious possible problem. If the problem is less than, say, a 5, the effort to solve it might be more trouble than it’s worth. 

4. Will you have to go to court?

Beyond getting your head around the types of forms you have to fill out and where to file them, going to court can be very intimidating. Find out what forum will be needed to resolve your case. Some small claims courts have their own online filing systems or process that are easy to handle on your own. Some divorce courts require folks to have mediated discussions before they can go before the judge.

5. Do you have the support of friends and family?

Dealing with legal problems takes time, no matter how big or small. So it’s good to have a sympathetic ear when you want to complain about things or to ask for advice on what to do next.

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