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DIY Legal Research vs. DIY Lawyering


I’m an energetic advocate of DIY Legal Research (as are most public law library librarians) and a somewhat less than enthusiastic advocate of DIY Lawyering (aka self-help, self-representation, pro se litigation, pro per representation), especially for people who don’t have any research experience or aptitude for hours of study, note-taking, writing, preparation, decision-making, and the sense to consult experts when necessary (not to mention having the patience of a cat watching its prey).

I’ve learned over the years that the most successful self-help litigant isn’t necessarily the smartest person, though “smart” can help. But persistence, attention to detail, listening, patience, and good manners can often win out over “smart.

Our best pro se litigants consult attorneys. The litigants save money by thorough research, study, observation, taking chances and making mistakes, and not a small amount of luck. They also have lots of energy that is used staying up late drafting motions, answers, letters, and reading the law, in all its procedural and substantive glory.

DIY Legal Research is hard enough; DIY lawyering, especially in Oregon, is beyond the reach of most people for many types of legal problems and situations, especially those that will have a serious impact on your future or you family’s future (and the two are usually intertwined).

If you’re going to be your own lawyer, you need to know how to find the law, substantive and procedural, how to update it, how to interpret it, how to present it to the court, and what to do if things don’t go your way, e.g. dismissals, appeals, etc. Please don’t confuse equity with law, justice with courts, or statutes with legal rights.

As I’ve said many, many times, if you read only what is written in the statutes, the cases, and the constitutions you will be absolutely wrong about what the law is.

There is also a lot of “online” lawyering taking place “on the Internet” and in Google-land and it makes me very nervous, especially when I listen to judges and lawyers talk about having to throw out cases or fix them (at great expense).

There are many sites such as LegalZoom. Please remember, if it’s too good to be true, if someone wants money up front, if you can’t check on the attorney’s bona fides (or even know if someone IS an attorney), then slow down. Contact the Oregon State Bar to check an attorney’s membership, call the Oregon Attorney General to find out if there are any consumer complaints, or ongoing investigations, against an online legal service. In short, use your common sense before putting your legal problem and personal information in someone else’s hands.

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