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Attorneys Vic Hill and Brad MacDonald

ABA Survey: Judges Don’t Advise Proceeding Without Lawyer

Cobb County Superior Court judges Lark Ingram and Robert Flournoy would most likely advise against it. So, too, would Gwinnett County State Court Judge Randy Rich.

When it comes to lay persons seeking to represent themselves in divorce, child custody and other civil matters, judges across Georgia and elsewhere throughout the United States generally counsel against the inclination to do so.

In a case before Judge Ingram in which the litigant thought he might forgo an attorney to save some money, the litigant ultimately felt he was at a disadvantage. Ingram awarded child custody to his ex-spouse and interrupted him several times for not following proper procedures. Judge Flourney says people opting to go it without lawyers often commit procedural errors and don’t do paperwork correctly. Judge Rich says this: “When it comes down to a trial, they don’t know the rules of evidence to get their documents admitted, and they don’t know the way to present whatever they want to present.”

In an American Bar Association survey from July 2010, in which close to 1,200 judges participated (including 124 from Georgia), 60 percent of the judges polled stated that they were seeing an increase of self-represented cases in 2009. Sixty-two percent of them said that in such cases things turned out worse for the party without an attorney.

 The judges don’t favor any uptick in self-representation. “It is a huge issue with judicial economy and use of the court’s time,” says Fulton County Superior Court Judge Bensonetta Tipton Lane. Judges don’t like having to educate a legally unschooled litigant. And, when they do, they have to be careful not to provide any legal advice or appear partial.

Steve Gottlieb, the executive director of Atlanta Legal Aid, provides some general guidance. He advises against proceeding in a divorce or child custody matter that involves acrimony, complex issues or an appreciable amount of property being divided.

Related Resource: “More people forgo lawyers, represent themselves” September 5, 2010