We live in an age of information. A person can jump on the Internet and learn vast amounts of knowledge about any topic he or she chooses. What is more, professionals in various fields are putting pen to paper (or, perhaps, fingertips to keyboards) and collecting their thoughts and insights into books that can be purchased by the average individual. The availability of this collection of information has encouraged a culture of “do-it-yourself,” where an individual would prefer to learn about a particular subject him- or herself and tackle a project him- or herself without calling in a professional. This is true in home improvement projects as well as in the legal sphere.
When an individual represents him- or herself in court without an attorney, that person is said to be appearing pro se. California permits individuals to appear pro se, and there is no law requiring that you retain legal counsel in order to negotiate with an adverse party in or out of court. But just because you can handle your claim yourself does not mean that you should.
Disadvantages of Negotiating Your Claim Yourself
No amount of book reading or internet research can substitute for the skill and knowledge of an experienced personal injury attorney. Injury victims who think they can “save a buck” by negotiating their injury claim themselves with the other party may find that doing so is not a good idea for a variety of reasons:
- You don’t know the law and how the facts of your case apply to the law. If the other party has an attorney, that attorney’s advice to his or her client will depend in large part on how strong your case appears to be. If you do not demonstrate the legal strength of your case, the other attorney may advise his or her client to litigate the case in court.
- You don’t know what you need in terms of compensation. You cannot continue to go back to the at-fault party and demand more and more compensation over time. Instead, you must accurately calculate the compensation you will need for your past and future expenses and attempt to obtain as great a portion of this amount as possible in your negotiations. If you do not know how to properly calculate your damages, or present a compensation amount that is too high, you risk having your proposal rejected.
- You don’t know how to negotiate with an attorney. If the other party has retained an attorney, chances are good that the attorney has had some experience in negotiating claims just like yours. This attorney may utilize “tricks” or other devices designed to get you to settle your claim quickly and for as little money as possible. The other attorney may lead you to believe your legal situation is much worse than it actually is, for example.
- You don’t know what to do if negotiations break down and you must pursue a lawsuit. If you do not know how to properly file a lawsuit and serve the other party with notice of your lawsuit, your case may be needlessly delayed (or, in the worst case, you may run out of time under the statute of limitations and be forever barred from seeking any compensation at all for your injuries.
In summation, while you do not need an attorney’s help to negotiate your injury claim with the at-fault party, there are many good reasons to seek an attorney’s assistance, especially if the other party has retained an attorney to represent him or her.