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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 March 2008, 12:33 GMT
Pros and cons of being a DIY lawyer
Heather Mills and Sir Paul McCartney's lawyer Fiona Shackleton

"It's not easy but just do your research and save yourself a fortune," said Heather Mills this week, after representing herself in court. But what are the benefits and the drawbacks?

It has been suggested that limits on legal aid are pushing more people to act for themselves in family court cases, with Mills asserting: "You can be a litigant in person. It's not easy, but just make sure you do all your research, save yourself a fortune."

But what are the pros and cons? Here family lawyer Brigid Turner, of Boodle Hatfield, gives her view.

MONEY ISSUE

FOR BEING YOUR OWN LAWYER

Show poverty

Cost is often the reason cited for litigants representing themselves and judges are sympathetic to spouses who are struggling to pay for legal advice. This can work to their advantage - if a wife is claiming she can barely put food on the table, the judge might find it more convincing if she isn't paying for experts to make the point for her.

AGAINST BEING YOUR OWN LAWYER

Save money by spending

This can however be a false economy. Money spent on good lawyers is money well spent since they might help the case to settle, avoiding the cost, delay and upset of a final hearing and, if it does go to hearing, a decent lawyer will hopefully get a better settlement for their client than they might achieve for themselves.

WHO'S THE EXPERT?

FOR

Bad advice

It does happen and bad advice may be worse than no advice at all - it's certainly more expensive.

AGAINST

Expert advice

Surely the most compelling argument to instruct a lawyer. You can expect an experienced family lawyer to have the requisite legal knowledge to put your case most effectively.

GETTING YOUR POINT ACROSS

FOR

I'm here

If you represent yourself you can say what you want and what you believe is important to your case. Sometimes this process can be cathartic and it must be deeply frustrating to hear a courtroom full of people discussing your family life with a judge as if you weren't there.

AGAINST

Professional arguers

Barristers argue on behalf of their clients all day, every day. Good advocacy is about knowing what's relevant and will help the judge make a decision favourable to their client. They can and should filter out the emotion and the sense of injustice that a wronged spouse may have.

OBJECTIVITY V EMOTION

FOR

Emotional advantage

Family lawyers, including judges, are used to people suffering and showing real upset. Judges are human and genuine emotion, appropriately expressed by a litigant in person, may well be respected and may influence a judge in favour of that litigant.

AGAINST

Objectivity

For the most part, family lawyers are objective and clear-sighted in their analysis of what is, at its heart, a financial calculation. It must be impossible to have that objective and unemotional approach to your own divorce.

CAN IGNORANCE HELP?

FOR

Judge's sympathy

Heather Mills appears, from what has been described as her rant on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice, not to have understood that she was not able to talk about the case. As a litigant in person she can say she had not understood and the judge may be sympathetic. Ignorance of the law can be seen to be an advantage but it should be exercised extremely cautiously and most judges go to great lengths to explain the law to litigants in person.

AGAINST

Protection

A good family lawyer should protect their clients from themselves and perhaps from the media. It could be said that Heather Mills didn't give the best impression of herself during and following the judgment in her divorce. If she'd known that the judgement could be made public, would she have said all those things about him? Sir Paul McCartney, so far, seems dignified in relative silence - is that his choice or as a result of good advice?

ADVICE ON PRESENTATION

FOR

Your own style

Not everybody wants to be told to wear an expensive, well-tailored suit if they want to present evidence to the judge that they need to spend 1,000 per month at Chanel. Heather Mills may have been communicating in her own way by her choice of style and manner at court.

AGAINST

Lawyers know courts

First impressions do count and whilst a family lawyer is not allowed to coach a witness or rehearse their evidence in any way, they can prepare their client for court by telling them what to expect as well as what they should wear and how they should conduct themselves.

Brigid Turner is a partner and family law expert at Boodle Hatfield (see internet links, above, right)


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