You are always allowed to represent yourself… but should you?
By Jedidiah McKeehan
From time to time, I will have a consultation with someone, and it becomes clear to me that they are pumping me for information so they can try to represent themselves. Sometimes they will come right out and say it, “Can’t I just do this myself?” When this happens, my feelings are not hurt. I get it, every dollar is precious to all of us and attorneys are expensive, I will admit it! Further, Tennessee Code Annotated section 23-1-109 states, “any person may conduct and manage the person’s own case in any court of this state.”
However, when I get to this point with someone, I tell them one of two things, and if they are really lucky, I will tell them both. The first thing I tell them is, “Yes, you can do this yourself. And it might work out just fine. If I wanted to fix my car myself, I suppose I could watch enough YouTube videos and spend enough time on it, that I can fix that weird knocking sound coming from beneath my hood. But is that the smartest thing to do? Is that the best way to fix the situation? Maybe it is. But I prefer taking my car to a mechanic.”
The second thing I will tell them (and this is a true story) is, “I have represented myself before. I was evicting someone from a rental property that I owned, and I thought it would not be a big deal and I could represent myself and handle it fine. I’m a lawyer! Well, it wasn’t. Even though I ended up winning the hearing, it was everything I could do to keep my temper under control during this hearing. I knew after that hearing I did not want to do that again.”
I bring the conversation full circle with these people and say, “Look, I know hiring a lawyer is never a thrilling proposition, but it is a fairly safe bet that things will go better for you if you do hire one, but if you want to represent yourself, you are perfectly entitled to do so.”
Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties. He works in many areas, including family law, criminal, and personal injury. Visit attorney-knoxville.com for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.