Reasonable Doubt: Lawyers will pull every trick in the book to win (it's a myth)
As legal aid suffers more and more cutbacks and less people are able to access legal help on a middle income salary, the courtrooms are filling up with self-represented litigants. As such it is not uncommon for a regular person to have to deal with a lawyer who represents the other side's interests.
It's easy enough to scream and yell and argue your point of view in the privacy of your own home or office, but coming face to face with a person that is trained to deal with conflict and argue legal matters in court changes the playing field somewhat. To say the least, it likely puts you, the self-rep (as they are called in the legal profession), on edge. Clearly, this person is out to get you right? You can't trust a thing they say? They know things!!!
Unfortunately, for lawyers, this is not true. It would be wonderful if we had a bag of magic tricks that could automatically make our client win out at the end of the day. It would be even nicer, if like in the movies and on TV, we could simply uncover that one clue or one law that blows the case wide open and wins the day for our client. In 2013, it is unusual to win a case on a “technicality”. Courts will not sacrifice justice for a technicality; they will do what they can to make sure that each side is heard and the real issues are decided.
Furthermore, there is a high expectation on lawyers in cases with self-reps to be fair and utterly transparent with respect to legal procedure. Navigating legal procedure can be a minefield, but lawyers are not to take advantage of a self-rep's lack of knowledge and experience to get the self-rep's case booted out of court.
Unbeknownst to many non-lawyers is the extreme ethical code that exists among lawyers. Lawyers who don't adhere to fair practices are stigmatized and known for their sharp practice in the legal community. A good reputation in the legal community means more frequent and better results for a lawyer's clients. This is because a lot of negotiations and keeping a case on track depend largely on a lawyer's goodwill in the community. Lawyers who are known to be nasty, bullies, and willing to pull “tricks” are regarded with some disdain by other lawyers and eventually judges.
So what is it that lawyers do know? What lawyers know and have experience in is court procedure, legal research, putting together sound legal arguments. What we don't have control over, however, are the facts. Our clients bring us the facts and we have to work with them to build a case. Some cases are just losers; not even the best lawyer can make a loser case a winner. What a good lawyer can do is mitigate a bad outcome for their client—ensure the best result that could have been achieved at the end of the day for that person in a difficult position.
In family law, there are even less legal “tricks” to be worried about as a self-rep. Courts push family litigants to get out of the courtroom and to the mediation table. Why? Because they know better than most that a lot of pain and anguish come from dragging a family case through the courtroom and at the end of the day, no one is ever very happy with the judge's decision.
When you take your case to court, you lose control over its outcome. You are asking a judge to assess over a short period of time (1 day, 7 days, 30 days) your credibility, the credibility of the opposing party and any witnesses you bring to court. In cases that are largely driven by the law and legal arguments, this is not so bad. In family cases, where it's incredibly difficult to understand all the nuances and power dynamics in a relationship and family, it's a huge risk to take. You can never know what aspect of the evidence that the judge is going to seize upon and make his or her decision.
For that reason, if you are a family self-rep, do what you can to open settlement negotiations, even if the other side is represented by a lawyer.