Most of us know somebody who’s been through the legal system and won their case. Winning the case is a victory, but that doesn’t make the person a reliable source for legal advice.
When you need to make the right choices, it’s imperative to consult a lawyer rather than depend on advice from friends. No matter how much experience the people you know have had with the court system, if they’re not lawyers, they don’t know enough to provide reliable guidance.
Here are the top four reasons you shouldn’t base legal decisions on a friend’s experience.
1. Some people don’t know how their case prevailed
You can’t rely on a friend to identify all the factors that led to his or her victory in court. Although a person is present during the legal proceedings on a case, many don’t know precisely how their counsel prevailed in the matter.
So many circumstances can factor into a winning legal case that it may be hard for a layperson to identify the pertinent specifics. Sometimes the win entails a combination of multiple factors or the absence of valid evidence.
When they relate their stories, people will only be able to share what they remember.
2. Legal myths are pervasive
There are plenty of legal myths floating around, including those held by people who won their cases. For example, sometimes people believe that a person is always entitled to monetary compensation when he or she suffers an injury on a commercial property.
A friend who has won a personal injury case might tell you that you are automatically entitled to compensation if you got hurt on someone else’s property. But many insurance claims are denied — and the lawsuits lost — by individuals who were legitimately injured.
The details matter most. For instance, consider a person who was acting recklessly by doing cartwheels and backflips down a staircase when she got injured. It’s possible the business owner could be held liable for those injuries, but it’s unlikely.
If you’ve been injured in an incident and you’re heading toward litigation, the SmileyLawFirm.com has published a report you need to read. It’s titled The 10 Myths of Settling Your Personal Injury Case, and it addresses the myths that surround the need for an attorney when to seek medical care, and how being partially at fault can reduce your settlement check.
3. No two cases have identical circumstances
Dealing with the legal system on your own is daunting. It’s natural to seek advice from friends who may have faced a similar situation.
For instance, if you’re searching for legal help after having suffered an injury, you might feel relieved to hear about a friend whose experience turned out favorably. While this can be comforting, your friends’ stories may also lead you astray.
If you’re not careful, you can quickly become convinced that your friend’s case is just like yours, and you’ll reach the same outcome. But when you set your heart on the desired issue, you’re likely to make decisions that rule out any other possible result.
Such a mindset can make you less likely to follow your lawyer’s advice if you believe it goes against the outcome you expect. Making decisions based on the desired outcome (rather than your lawyer’s advice) can damage your ability to recover compensation.
For example, sometimes people reject a settlement offer that was hard to negotiate because they think they should get more money than has been offered. Holding out for a higher dollar amount can be risky, though.
If you reject too many offers, your case could end up going to trial and take years to resolve, during which period you can’t receive a penny. If you can’t work during that time, bills will pile up and amass interest before you see any settlement money.
The fact is, even highly similar cases can lead to very different outcomes because no two cases have identical circumstances. Sometimes, all it takes is a minor detail to shift the outcome in an unforeseeable direction.
4. Successful pro se representation is rare
Perhaps the most critical situation in which you should listen to your lawyer instead of friends is when someone suggests handling your case pro se. In legal terms, prose means self-representation.
Self-representation is frowned upon by judges and prosecutors because it usually ties up the court’s time. Trial proceedings are strict and orderly, and deviation from protocol — mainly due to ignorance — will be detrimental to your case.
Some people get lucky and have the energy and will to navigate the legal system on their own, but such folks are rare. Don’t let your friends persuade you to skip the lawyer. Not having one can be like trying to swim freestyle across the Pacific Ocean.
Take friendly advice with a grain of salt
Your friends care about you, so let them share their experiences and advice, but remember to take all of it with a grain of salt, and at least pass it by your attorney before you make any decisions.