Jocelyn Snyder is a senior at Mercy High School.

Federal Magistrate Judge Kathleen Tomlinson presided over a most unusual conference call on July 30.

The call involved two people who had sued General Motors about damaged rear suspensions in their 1995 Saabs. Saab is owned by General Motors. Tomlinson permitted the plaintiffs to argue their case without attorneys representing them while GM’s attorneys were also on the line.

While considered by many legal experts to be highly unusual, self-representation is a growing trend. Hard economic times may be prompting a growing number of people to forgo attorneys and argue their own cases to save money.

In divorce cases, for example, more than 80 percent of those sued are defending themselves without attorneys, in one recent study. The figure is nearly 100 percent now in small claims court.

The American Bar Association released the results of another study completed in 1991 concluding that “persons with incomes less than $50,000 are more likely to represent themselves.”

Federal Prosecutor Eric Snyder  said that the trend may have an economic basis.

“In a tough economy, especially when small sums of money are being contested, it is likely that the litigants will represent themselves rather than spend a large amount of money to obtain professional aid,” he said.

Tomlinson’s case is an example of the trend.

The plaintiffs were arguing the continuation of the case since it was stalled due to GM’s recent filing for bankruptcy protection.

 The plaintiffs represented themselves but also a class of people who may have experienced the same mechanical problem with their vehicles. Although the plaintiffs were aware of the major laws pertaining to their case, they struggled to comprehend certain topics and their lack of research prohibited the immediate continuation of the case, a problem that Tomlinson told Greene team reporters plagues many people who walk into court without attorneys.

While having a lawyer might be a cost burden, in the long run it could prove detrimental to represent oneself.

The events in Judge Tomlinson’s court show that not having a lawyer is a disadvantage since it takes years of study to fully understand the laws used in the court system.

In an effort to aid pro se litigants, many courts across the country have established self-help centers, which help promote better understanding of the various laws and procedures within the court. They also offer advice specific to the litigant’s case.

 

 
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