You think it’s just memorizing a bunch of spells and throwing them at him, like you’re in class or something? The whole time you’re sure you know there’s nothing between you and dying except your own—your brain brain or guts or whatever…
—Harry Potter, chapter 15, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Most people have a decidedly magical view of lawyering. Speak the right Latin phrase and—presto!—the judge rules in your favor. A police officer fails to give you a Miranda warning and—abracadabra!—the charges are dismissed.People ask me for ways to handle their own case. For myriad reasons, this is a bad idea, but the biggest reason is that most people have no idea what to expect in court. They do not even know the reason for their next court date, let alone what they are supposed to do once they get there. They say, “if you just told me what to do, I’ll save myself a lot of money and you can save yourself the the hassle.” If only it were so simple. This is the simplistic view that Harry Potter says people have about magical duels. There is more to lawyering than just muttering a Latin incantation to a judge, and nothing is simple once you get to court.
In truth, it would be easy to give a naive client a plan A for when they get to court, but they will also need a plan B, C, and D. Whenever the client is throwing “incantations” about the law, the other side is throwing them right back at you. Anyone unprepared will lose a case that they could have won. Nearly any case can be lost through bad lawyering. There are many rules of the courtroom that are not forgiving to the uniformed. For example, if someone fails to object in a timely manner, the law considers the objection waived. Miss a crucial objection and it will sink the case and its appeal, too. Knowing how and when to make objections is something that takes years of study and practice.
People often think that because they are innocent they do not need a lawyer. A proper resolution to a criminal case can take months or even years. This is no less true for those who have a good case for defense and are factually not guilty of the crime. There is no way to quickly teach someone how to fight a case.
People think they can show up to the arraignment, and (Perry Mason style) the judge will see how wronged they have been, and the charges will be magically dismissed. Even if you have a good issue for suppression, you have to know when and how to raise the issue. In my experience, laypeople are bad at even identifying issues for suppression and do not know what will happen even if they win. Sometimes, a prosecutor can proceed with charges without the piece of suppressed evidence.
For so many reasons, it is best to hire a lawyer. Let them do their magic and fight the battle for you.