Legal Pad: Making the Law Work for You
Tuesday, December 22, 2009 at 4:52PM

You’ve heard the one about the lawyer….right?  Everyone loves a good lawyer joke.   Personally,  I just love to hear that often misquoted Shakespearean reference “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”  But more about that later.  Lawyers are good fodder for making fun and the bane of society’s existence. That is, until you need one.  Then, all of sudden, in the middle of the night, the phone rings and you find your teenage son in jail.  Or, you come home to find your wife in bed with your best friend.  Who you gonna call?  I doubt it will be Ghost Busters.  No, you’ll call a lawyer.  And that’s a good call. 

Here’s why.  Think of life as a board game to navigate.  Lawyers are the only ones who have read and memorized the rules.  Added to that knowledge data base is the skill to manipulate the rules, within the rules themselves.  That is the key to making the law work for you.  It’s not a do it yourself proposition.

The world of do it yourself legal work is scary to me.  Commercial websites and even our own Supreme Court have forms that are designed to avoid the Bar.  But these forms have serious limitations, and in my opinion, do not serve the needs of most people.  Let’s take a look at the new uncontested divorce forms that are available online.  These forms are free.  Seems like a good deal, right?  Well, these forms are perfect if you and your spouse are in complete agreement on all points.  That is rarity in the world of Family Court. 

The instructions for the do-it-yourself forms are ten pages long.  The very first part of the instructions states in bold type:  “Warning:  You are strongly encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney before filing any legal matter.”  Yet, despite this warning, many people continue to file a “Self-Represented Litigant Simple Divorce Packet.”  They ignore the further caution in the instructions that states “While the self-represented litigant may not incur the attorney expense, the self-represented litigant does not have the expert guidance that an attorney can provide.” 

Here are just a few of the problems that I have seen arise in the filing of a “self-represented divorce.”  The first and most common problem is that the spouse who is served with these papers immediately goes and hires an attorney, who files paperwork that renders the case contested, thus defeating the purpose of the “self-represented divorce.”  In these cases, the Plaintiff, who is the filing party, finds him or herself in the position of being against a seasoned attorney.  Clearly, that is a disadvantage.  The only workable and sane solution is to get an attorney.  Another problem I often see is that the “self-represented litigant” either does not complete all the forms or does not complete them correctly.  There are nineteen (19) forms in the self-represented packet.   The forms contain terms like a vinculo matrimonii and in forma pauperis.  These are not every day terms.  If the forms are not done correctly, the Judge cannot grant the divorce on the day of the hearing.  This is a problem.  It takes several months to get a hearing date.  You don’t want to waste it!  If a divorce has to be rescheduled, that can add several weeks to the wait.  But I think perhaps the worst thing I see in the do-it-yourself divorce is a person who fails to realize what the law can do for him or for her.  For example, alimony is a complicated area of the law.  There is a Code section that sets forth the criteria for whether or not alimony is awarded.    Retirement accounts are another complex area.  Persons who are getting a do-it-yourself divorce often miss out on valuable benefits that they could have ordered, if they knew about them.   Child custody issues are also quite complex.  There are tax issues in divorces.  There are property issues in divorces.  I have practiced in the divorce arena for over fifteen (15) years. I continue to learn new things and new ways to benefit my clients.  Our law continues to evolve and change.   Just last year, the state legislature re-numbered the entire children’s code.  Last week, our state Supreme Court updated all of the forms used by our Courts.  New court opinions are posted weekly and have far reaching implications.  Only attorneys have the knowledge and skill necessary to get a case through any court.

Before you go to court alone, ask yourself one question.  If your gall bladder was full of stones, would you try to remove it yourself?  If that doesn’t decide it for you, then I don’t know what will.

So let’s go back to Shakespeare.  The play is the second part of King Henry VI.  The quote can be found at Act IV, Scene II.  The character who speaks the infamous line is Dick, the Butcher.   Dick is a repulsive and evil character.  At this juncture of the play, he is both encouraging and to a certain degree mocking Jack Cade, who is attempting to overthrow the government and become king.  Dick offers the suggestion to “kill all the lawyers” as a way to insure anarchy.  Immediately following this quote, Jack Cade and his mob brutally murder the Clerk of Chatham because he can write his name!   So clearly, this quote is not meant, by Shakespeare, as an insult to the legal profession.  To the contrary, even Dick the Butcher realizes that lawyers pose a threat to Cade’s revolution.  That is because lawyers know the rules and aren’t afraid to use them.  Shakespeare wrote this play in the late 1500s.  The need for lawyers has existed for a long time.  Taking the quote out of context is somewhat akin to taking Biblical quotes out of context.  All quotes have to be in context to be meaningful.  Sometimes it takes a lawyer to realize that.


So, the next time you have a problem like your son landing in jail or your best friend sleeping with your wife, who you gonna call?  I hope it’s a lawyer.  And be sure to tell the lawyer a good doctor joke at your first appointment!
**Disclaimer:  M. J. Goodwin, Attorney at Law, LLC, is located at 113 North Main Street, Anderson, SC 29621.  864-375-0909.  The information here is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice for any given situation.  Only clients who have hired M. J. Goodwin, Attorney at Law, LLC, are receiving actual legal advice that pertains to their particular situation.**

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