Do I Really Need a Lawyer?
You or a loved one may have never been charged with a crime before, and suddenly there's an arrest and criminal charges, and now you have no idea what the process is or what happens next. So, you turn to the Internet and type in searches for "cheap lawyer near me," or "how expensive is an attorney?" or simply: "do I really need a lawyer?"
Although you've probably heard that you have the right to an attorney if you're charged with a crime, that does not mean you have to have one.
In Colorado, it is illegal to practice law without a license, except in one very specific situation: when someone is charged with a crime, they can represent themselves. This is called representing oneself "pro se," a Latin phrase that means "on one's own behalf."
"a person who acts as their own lawyer, has a fool for a client."
The judge will not give you a break just because you aren't an attorney, though. Pro se litigants must follow all the same rules and procedures - including filing all the appropriate paperwork with the court and paying all the required fees - as those who are represented by attorneys. If someone chooses to represent themselves pro se, the judge will expect them to know everything that an attorney does, and to act and speak like an attorney in court.
A lawyer, like a medical doctor, has had specific training in a highly specialized field. Every attorney has gone through at least four years of college and then three more years of law school. And, even then, just because someone graduated from law school doesn't automatically make them a lawyer. In order to become a lawyer, every attorney has either passed a rigorous test of their legal knowledge, called the "bar" exam, or they have otherwise been qualified by their experience or skills to practice law in a particular state or in a particular type of court. Only then will an attorney be granted a law license, or "admitted to the bar."
The name for this "bar" license actually comes from the way courtrooms are designed. In a courtroom, there's usually a waist-high wooden railing separating where the public and where officers of the court can go. This barrier is called the "bar." Only licensed attorneys have said to have "passed the bar" and are allowed to cross to the other side in order to speak to the judge.
Judges were once attorneys, themselves, too, who have either been elected or appointed to their positions.
In addition to their training, lawyers and judges have years of experience doing their jobs - while this might be the first time a pro se litigant has ever appeared in court, lawyers go to court every day. They have established relationships with the prosecutors and the judges.
Besides knowing what to do, lawyers also know what to say. In order to practice law, one has to learn a seemingly entirely different language. For example, in order to pass the bar exam, a lawyer has to know all of the following words and what they mean:
accessory, acceptor, accomplice, administrator, adverse possessor, agent, ancestor, artificial person, assignee, bailee, bailor, beneficiary, bona fide purchaser, buyer, claimant, conservator, consignee, consignor, conspirator, contestant, conveyee, conveyor, covenantee, covenantor, creditor, debtor, defendant, deponent, depositor, descendant, devisee, divisor, domiciliary, donor, drafter, drawee, drawer, executor, expert witness, guardian, grantee, grantor, heir, holder, indorsee, indorser, inside trader, issue, issuer, joint tenant, legatee, lendee, lender, lessee, lessor, licensee, licensor, litigant, maker, merchant, mortgagee, mortgagor, natural person, obligee, obligor, partner, payee, plaintiff, possessor, principal, process server, promisee, promisor, promoter, prosecutor, registered agent, remainderman, remitter, representative, seller, settlor, shareholder, stakeholder, taker, tenant in common, testator, tippee, tipper, titleholder, tortfeasor, transferee, transferor, trustee, trustor, vendee, vendor, victim, witness…
…and so on.
Even though you could represent yourself, that doesn't mean you should.
No amount of Internet research between now and your next court date is going to teach you everything you need to know - and certainly not as much as a good attorney already knows.
If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged with a crime, trying to handle the situation on your own can be overwhelming and frightening. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help guide you through the next steps, and help protect you and your rights throughout the process. Contact the experts at The Law Offices of Steven Rodemer to ensure you get the expert legal representation you deserve.