When Do You Need an Attorney?

    Lawyers often are asked random legal questions from friends, family, and a variety of individuals. The other night I was asked such a question. An old friend asked, “Do you have to have an attorney to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy?” This specific question also raised the general question of when one must have attorney representation in court.

    In general, a corporation, LLC, or partnership must have an attorney representing it in court. In other words, with perhaps a few very narrow exceptions, these entities cannot proceed in court without an attorney representing them.

    An individual, on the other hand, can typically represent himself in court. This is called appearing “pro se,” which is a Latin term meaning “on one’s own behalf.” However, proceeding pro se is not advisable. The court system is a byzantine structure, a labyrinth filled with potential procedural traps and complicated substantive legal hurdles deriving from a variety of case law, statutes, regulations, rules, and combinations thereof. While courts give wider latitude to pro se litigants who make mistakes and are more willing to help guide those appearing pro se through the procedural morass, it is all too common for the pro se litigant to trip up in the legal minefield and to have his case blow up in his face. Thus, if you are going to court (with the exception of small claims court, where a party cannot be represented by a lawyer), you should always try to retain a competent lawyer to protect your interests.

    The takeaway: If you’re a corporation, LLC, or partnership and are tied up in a court matter, you must have an attorney represent you. If you’re an individual, you can represent yourself, but it is not advisable to do so.

    Posted by: Gustafson Nicolai pc – Adam Nicolai, Esq. and Ryan Gustafson, Esq., October 16, 2015

    Contributing: Diana Nguyen