In General Our system of laws and legal procedures have evolved over hundreds of years, beginning before the foundation of this country. These laws have been written and procedures put into place by lawyers for lawyers. Any time that a non-lawyer ventures into the practice of law on their own, they are placing themselves in a difficult and sometimes dangerous position. You never have to hire an attorney to represent you, just like you are not required to hire a plumber to fix a leaky pipe. Many times, however, you may find yourself up to your knees in water or sewage in the middle of the night if you do it wrong. Just as in the example of hiring a plumber, if you attempt to do your own legal work, you will not know whether or not you did it right until it is too late. I suggest that you never do your own legal work. For all but the simplest of tasks, although I have been an attorney for thirty years, I do not do my own legal work as it is difficult to remain objective. If you are inclined to ignore this advice, be aware that the following specific areas are some in which you should ALWAYS retain an attorney. You will see that attorney's fees for several matters where you need an attorney the most are relatively inexpensive. Going to the Courthouse NEVER go to the Courthouse or file anything in the courthouse without an attorney. If you can't do it by mail, you need an attorney. You may have an encyclopedic knowledge of the law and absolute total recall of all applicable facts and circumstances affecting your case and still find yourself losing or, even worse, being required to pay the attorney's fees incurred by the other side. There are many, many attorneys who refuse to even go near a courthouse because they do not practice trial law and are not familiar with the rules of evidence and procedure. If attorneys who have gone to law school and passed the bar exam know better, so should you. There are several hundred rules of procedure which you must be intimately familiar with in order to represent someone in Court. You may be the biggest baddest guy who ever walked, with the ability to throw a football through a six inch ring every time at a hundred yards, but if you don't know the rules you will never win a football game. By way of example, you are required to answer requests for admissions within thirty days. You must respond to a motion for summary judgment seven days before the hearing. You may have the best case in the world and being the smartest person who ever walked, but if you miss either one of these deadlines, you have lost your case and all of the valuable rights which you were attempting to enforce. Buying or Selling Real Estate You should never buy or sell real estate without the services of an attorney. Most people never consider seeking legal advice when buying or selling a home. This is a mistake. The real estate industry has involved over a period of many years and the "standard" forms which you are asked to sign have been written by attorneys to be totally biased in favor of the real estate broker or salesperson. You have no friends in a real estate transaction, not even "your" broker. For example, are you aware that a title company will NEVER return an escrow deposit unless both sides agree? Did you know that real estate appraisers are often chosen by the real estate broker whose goal it is to 1) sell the house and 2) at the highest possible price? How comfortable are you in accepting the advice of an appraiser whose loyalty is to someone other than yourself? You encounter the same problems with home inspectors. A real estate sales contract is a very complicated document. It becomes even more complicated when much of it is either handwritten or composed of blanks which are filled in by hand by someone who is not trained in drafting contracts and who does not have your best interests in mind. The same is true of a multiple listing agreement. This is a complicated document that was not intended to be in the best interests of someone who is selling their home. Again by way of example, it is often represented and even more often strongly implied that the commission rate is not negotiable. This is entirely incorrect. I have seen numerous instances where commission rates were negotiated for less. Fortunately, the services which you need from an attorney in most instances of buying or selling a home are not complicated and relatively inexpensive. It should take an attorney less than an hour to review your contract(s). When you get in to the area(s) of commercial or farm and ranch real estate, the problems become far more complex and the penalties associated with making a mistake far more costly but, likewise, the penalties, for not doing so are even greater. Starting a Business In Texas, starting a business does not appear to be difficult. The simple mechanics of forming a business may not be, but the problem does not end there. First, you must decide what type of business entity to create. This depends upon the nature of the business to be formed, the number of investors, capital contributions and many other factors. Unless you are a sophisticated businessman or an accountant, this is not something you want to do on your own. The documents provided or suggested by companies who attempt to convince you to do this on your own are "one size fits all" and while they may work in many instances, they also do not work much of the time. Often a business is started by a small group of friends or acquaintances. At the initiation of the business, everyone is getting along and the world is your oyster. Invariably, disagreements arise and two or more of the owners get together to squeeze out the other(s). One hastily-called shareholders meeting could have you left out in the cold with little if any recourse. This can be avoided by creating or implementing by-laws requiring a unanimous vote to remove anyone as a board member, manager, member etc. or to modify their salary or other compensation. This is just one example. Make sure that you hire an attorney to represent you. ALWAYS go through the process of creating an actual legal entity. The problems that can arise from the dissolution of a partnership (which is what is created when two or more people carry on a business for profit without creating a corporation, LLC, etc.) are identical to what occurs when two people who have lived together without the benefit of marriage experience. In fact, attorneys refer to this situation as "a business divorce." In contrast, problems which arise after the proper formation of a business entity are more akin to getting a divorce when you have a carefully drafted prenuptial agreement which is favorable to you. Wills A will served two purposes, both of which are equally important. The first purpose is to insure that your property goes to whom you want it go to when you want it to go to them. The second is to insure that the will is written in such a way that your heirs (usually your children) do not have the opportunity to fight over the way that your property is divided. Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare (Living Wills) Paraphrasing broadly, a durable power of attorney for health care (often referred to as "a living will") is a document which allows you to select someone to make a decision about whether or not to keep you on life support when you can no longer make decisions for yourself. The consequences of not preparing one properly are horrific, both in terms of emotional burdens on your family and in terms of expense. Certain advisories must be given in order for the "living will" to be effective. Those who can serve to make health care decisions for you are limited. Once this document is needed, after you are no longer cognizant, there is no opportunity to correct any mistakes. This is probably one of the least expensive matters for which you would ever seek the advice of an attorney. It is certainly not worth the risk of either not preparing a living will or not having it prepared correctly. Criminal Matters For any criminal matter, other than a traffic ticket, you should always retain the services of an attorney. There are any number of things that can happen if you attempt represent yourself, all of them bad. Do not do as many do, and try to represent yourself at the initial phase(s) of prosecution, planning on hiring an attorney later if you see the need. Trying to represent yourself may result in your being convicted of a crime that you that you are not guilty of. You might also receive a far more severe punishment than you would receive if represented by counsel. In every instance, you will not be aware of the consequences of any agreement you reach with the prosecutor. There are any number of things that can occur as the result of a criminal conviction including losing your driver's license, subjecting yourself to liability in a civil suit, losing government benefits, and/or being able to obtain certain licenses or jobs. When faced with criminal charges, your life, liberty and property are all at stake, all of which are more important than the fees an attorney might charge you. Additionally, if you are actually unable to afford an attorney, the Court will appoint one for you. There is simply no reason for you to attempt to represent yourself.