When a client proceeds pro se (literally, for yourself), he or she tries to represent him or herself. There’s an old joke which says that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. The punchline depends on the simple truth that even when you have the skills to make an argument, the lack of objectivity you have for your own case will often come back to bite you.
The problem is magnified when the person representing himself is not even a lawyer. Lawyers are trained to make sound arguments, but they are also trained to understand the procedural rules that govern cases — and which, if ignored, will result in a dismissal even though the merits of the case were solid. Non-lawyers easily miss important deadlines, fail to comply with mandated formats, and end up producing legal briefs and motions which are usually summarily ignored. Did you know that some courts employ special clerks who deal exclusively with pro se cases? While this may seem unfair, it is actually the court’s attempt to give the litigant a fair shake even though she has filed something which ranges from non-compliant to simply incoherent.
When clients consider their case, though, they often fail to recognize these important factors. Take this example: a defendant is convicted in Mecklenburg County Superior Court for DUI. His license is revoked and he is facing jail time. He feels that the verdict is wrong, because he was stopped at a license checkpoint which did not meet statutory and constitutional requirements. While these issues may all prove worthy of pursuit on appeal, he may miss a variety of procedural requirements, all of which could stop his appeal in its tracks: did he file a notice of appeal? If so, did he do it in time? Did he sent a copy to the State? Has he contracted with a transcriptionist yet? And these issues arise in the first month!
If you have proceeded pro se, or if your trial attorney isn’t going to represent you on appeal and you are without representation, secure the services of an appellate attorney before you start missing deadlines. Even if you’re afraid that you have already missed some deadlines, the attorney can often file motions to get your case back on track.