Traditionally, people retain a lawyer for their family court case. Hiring a lawyer means you trust someone else who’s educated, experienced, and knows how to study the particular facts and apply them to the law. That’s the best way to get help but also the most expensive. How do you prepare without the money to pay a lawyer?
The next best thing is to pick the brain of someone who’s already been to court alone and has made it out ok. If you know someone who’s already been to family court, invite them to dinner, happy hour, or coffee to talk about their experience. Ask what they did to prepare and what they’d do differently. What worked and what didn’t. Get advice – see what you can learn from their experiences.
Go to court ahead of your own court date to watch other lawyers and other self-reps present their cases if you can. This is a great way to pick up tips and ideas about how you can best present your case. If your work schedule allows, go to the court room ahead of time to scout out the scene so you aren’t going to a strange place for the first time.
Another source to consider: do you know anyone who makes presentations at work or who does public speaking for a living? Speak with them about how to project your voice, use body language, and develop techniques to present in court in a more persuasive manner. If you don’t have a professional to give you advice, you can still ask a friend to play the role of your judge, and you can make your presentation to him or her.
Practice your elevator pitch, your opening, closing, speaking in public, and looking others in the eye when you speak. Ask your friend to interrupt you with questions and you can practice answering it and returning to your presentation. If you don’t have a friend you can do this with, then practice alone in front of a mirror or cell phone. Video your presentation and play it back so you can review how you appear and sound. A word of caution: it can be pretty painful to see even for a professional, so don’t get discouraged. The purpose is to help you get better, not discouraged. It doesn’t matter how or where you rehearse, so long as you practice, improve your presentation, and don’t feel like deer in headlights at your day in court.
If you don’t have any friends or family that you can trust to help you, then pay a lawyer for advice. You don’t have to retain a lawyer for the whole case anymore; you can pay for a consultation to help you with your self-representation.
Don’t have unrealistic expectations about what will happen in court – it can cost you. Most people who represent themselves tend to be overly optimistic, lose their objectivity, and have high expectations. What lawyers do is help clients understand how a judge will see the situation and make sure that the client has realistic expectations about what the results will be. Unrealistic expectations cause you to miss a fair or good settlement offer and increase the chances that you’ll lose more than is necessary. Unreasonable demands will make the judge think that you’re unreliable. If you appear unreliable and if the other party is reasonable, the judge is more likely to find for the other side side.
Invest some money to get some advice. You’re in court because the issue is important to you. The smartest thing you can do when acting for yourself is to invest a bit in your success by getting some focused legal advice. The better you understand your position, know what to expect, and how to handle to handle the case, the better chance you’ll have of getting through it successfully.
Legal advice will help you develop realistic expectations so you can focus more effectively on your strengths and not waste time dealing with matters where you simply won’t succeed.