I fielded a phone call in the wee early hours this morning (I was already up and working) from a fellow with an overseas issue. He said he needed a some help with the Hague Convention (there’s no such thing as “the” Hague Convention), and could he pick my brain for a few minutes.
Sure, I said, but it was apparent right at the outset that he lacked the necessary self-loathing to have ever gone to law school. That always gives me pause, so I interjected to ask if he was a litigant or the attorney handling the matter.
No, I’m not a lawyer, said he, with a frustrated tone in his voice, leading me to believe that he’d already spoken to a few lawyers with no luck. I tried to let him down easy and point him toward some professional assistance, but he was having none of it.
See, I don’t give advice directly to litigants on these matters– I can’t (see here for why)— but I will tell those litigants that (1) I’m always happy to assist their lawyer, and (2) if they don’t have one, I urge them to retain someone. This sort of thing (cross-border procedure) is a challenge even for seasoned trial attorneys, so it’s nigh impossible for “civilians” to undertake on their own.
The lion’s share of folks who contact me are very kind and they understand where I’m coming from.
This morning’s caller was mildly nasty about the whole deal. He said he’d just use my blog as a template* and grumbled something about (g-d) lawyers under his breath before hanging up on me. I get similar inquiries a few times a week, most via email, but the lion’s share of folks who contact me are very kind and they understand where I’m coming from.
This blog is and should be a resource for anybody dealing with overseas procedural issues. That said, its primary purpose is to guide attorneys— not individuals involved in their own lawsuits without counsel. These folks are called pro se litigants (pronounced “pro-SAY”), and although individuals certainly have the right to represent themselves, it’s simply not a good idea. Sure, I’m biased in saying that, much as a physician is biased in telling someone he shouldn’t perform surgery on himself.
Nobody should try to take out their own appendix, and nobody should try to represent themselves in a court proceeding– even for something seemingly minor like a traffic ticket.** That old adage “any lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client” is telling. Even lawyers and their family members*** should hire someone else to assist them, especially if a matter lies outside their expertise.
And in the context of overseas issues, it’s even more critical that a party to a lawsuit have someone trained in litigation to fight on his or her behalf. Having a licensed attorney involved really is as critical as having a surgeon perform an operation. So, what’s my role in that analogy? Think of me like a radiologist– the doctor who reads a patient’s x-rays and MRI scans, and advises the surgeon about where s/he needs to go once the patient is on the table. I advise litigators about where they need to go once an overseas defendant has been named in a lawsuit.
* No, don’t do that. It’s not a template. It’s just an overview.
** I recognize the fact that some states don’t allow accused offenders to represent themselves– I contend that this is an unconstitutional restriction– but I remain adamant that if a person is summoned to court, they shouldn’t go alone if they can retain counsel.
*** Just ask my wife. [It was a simple parking ticket– and I got it reduced to twenty-five bucks!– but she’s still irked that I couldn’t get it dismissed.]