When someone decides to become a lawyer he or she must go through a rigorous process before becoming certified to practice law. It is required that he or she complete law school, which can take anywhere from to three or four years, and pass an extensive exam. During the course of study, prospective lawyers will learn civil procedure, criminal procedure, evidence, legal writing, and various other courses that will prepare them to sufficiently represent a client in the courtroom. Years of preparation and thousands of hours are spent for a person to prepare to be able to adequately represent another person. With all the criteria that must be met for a lawyer to represent another person in court, it would be unreasonable to expect people, without adequate education, to be successful in representing themselves in a courtroom. But, some people try to represent themselves in the courtroom with no legal assistance. This is what the legal field refers to as “pro se”, the Latin phrase meaning “for oneself”. Unfortunately, in some cases, people do so to no avail and Mr. Lares, in his appeal to the Fourth Court of Appeals Court, Lares v. Flores, found out just how difficult the process can be.
Why did Lares’ attempt to represent himself fail?
When a decision is made on a case a person can attempt to appeal the decision by claiming the original court made an error. When making an appeal there are certain rules of procedure that must be sufficiently followed for the court to consider your appeal. Lares had several issues that he wanted to appeal from the trial court. He claimed the trial court erred by failing to provide him notice of the hearing, denying his motion for continuance, refusing to hold his ex wife, Flores, in contempt, and believing his ex wife’s testimony over his because he was incarcerated at the time. Lares needed to prepare an adequate brief of these issues that followed the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure. Lawyers are trained to know these rules and expected to follow them when they are submitting a brief to the court. If the brief is not adequate, the court will wave the complaints made and the appeal will not be considered.
The brief filed needs to contain a statement of facts, clear arguments for the issues the person is complaining about, and citations to support these arguments. In Lares’ case, because he was representing himself and did not have legal assistance, he was unaware of these requirements. In the very first year of law school, learning how to correctly use citations is the first technique that a student must learn. Law students are trained to know how to make proper citations to authority and students have a brief, similar to what Lares needed, due in the first year of school to present.
Lares, though, did not make proper citations in his brief and the court did not accept his first brief. The court, though, was gracious and allowed Lares to make a second attempt in his brief but he was still unsuccessful. Even with the court specifying what needed to be done to have a proper brief, he was still unable to submit one with the needed criteria. In the end, Lares was unable to submit a correct brief that followed the guidelines set out in appellate procedure. Lares’ brief was deemed inadequate, and because of this, the court considered his inadequate brief as no brief at all. Lares was unable to have his complaints reviewed and failed at his attempt to have his issues reviewed by the court.
Why should I hire an attorney instead of representing myself?
As we saw with Lares’ situation, a court is not going to go easy on you just because you have decided to represent yourself. The appeals court explained that “even though he was pro se, he was required to comply with all applicable rules of procedure, including the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure, and he was held to the same standards as a licensed attorney.” The “court is not going to give pro se parties an unfair advantage over persons who have counsel to represent themselves.” Lares did not sufficiently provide in his brief basic skills that are taught in the first year of law school. Had Lares consulted with an attorney, the lawyer would have known what was expected, and his brief would have been prepared correctly. When attempting to represent yourself in a courtroom, you are going to be expected to prepare your case to the same standards as an attorney. A lawyer is trained to spot issues and know how to argue them before a court. By representing yourself, you may not be able to spot certain issues that may be needed to win your case. Hiring an attorney to help with your legal matter will greatly heighten your chances of success rather than trying to attempt the process on your own.