When thinking about the legal system, most people immediately think about two major stressors – time and money.
And here’s the truth: these are both legitimate things to stress about.
When life brings you a situation that involves the legal system, it means stepping out into uncharted territory. This is true even for lawyers who suddenly find themselves the subject of a lawsuit. The system moves at an inconsistent pace, sometimes feeling too fast and sometimes droning on very slowly. The expenses can be unpredictable and they accumulate quickly at some times and stay stagnant at others. At the outset of a case, there is no way to know how long a case is going to take or how much it is going to cost.
Jane Doe is here so that survivors of abuse always have a resource for legal help. Still, even with our sliding fee scale and coaching options, some people simply cannot afford a lawyer. For those who can afford legal help, they may want to fight the case on their own for purposes or principle or empowerment.
Whether you are waiting until you can afford legal help or planning to get through the case on your own, here are five things you can do to get the ball rolling.
1. Assess Your Goals
Put aside all legal jargon, statute language, and fancy terminology for a while. Look at the situation you are in and decide what you truly want to accomplish at the end. This does NOT mean figuring out what you are most likely to get, nor does it mean guessing what you deserve. Decide with certainty what you actually want to accomplish by the end of the case and write it down. Believe it or not, this is one of the hardest things for people to do when they visit a lawyer’s office. Without the end goal, though, you have no way of knowing how to proceed.
2. Know Who You’re Dealing With
Most legal proceedings will involve two sides. No matter how well you think you know the other side, there is always room for something to catch you by surprise at the worst possible time. Reduce the risk of this happening by getting to know the other side of your case as well as possible. Look the opposing party up on a program like CaseNet to see if they have been involved in any other court cases. If they have an attorney, look them up on the state bar website do an Internet search for reviews and case history. The more you know about the other side of the case, the better you will be able to strategize moving forward.
3. Know Yourself
Think of the situation you are dealing with right now. Has this situation amplified from another situation you tried to handle? Is this situation similar to another event in your life? If yes, then how have you failed or held yourself back in the past? In general, is there a way you tend to sabotage your own success? These are very personal questions that you may even wish to discuss with a counselor or therapist. The legal process can get intense, and there is little room for emotional decisions. Knowing yourself and whether you have a pattern of certain tendencies will help you overcome hurdles that arise with your case.
4. Draft the Paperwork
For many legal proceedings, the paperwork is available online on county websites. Research the language of the law to determine exactly what you need to do to reach your goals. Then, find the paperwork you need and start filling it out. If you represent yourself in court, you will have to get used to making your way through dense legal paperwork. If you plan to work with a lawyer, getting this information all written down in one place will help your lawyer work more efficiently on your case once you hire them.
5. Find an Advocate
Having a support system is crucial for getting through hotly contested legal matters. While you pick and choose which friends and family members to share your story with, you should also look to see if your local courthouse has professional advocates available to help. A legal advocate is someone generally employed by the courts or another local agency. They are not lawyers, but they can help walk you through the legal system and be there as a professional source of support. Advocates also have a wealth of information about community resources available at low or no cost. Even if you hire a lawyer, the support of an advocate can be invaluable throughout your case.
Do you have questions about the legal system?
If you have experienced abuse and have questions about the legal process in the aftermath of that abuse, you can click the button below to schedule a no-cost phone consultation with an attorney at Jane Doe Advocacy Center. Or, click the banner below to attend a small group workshop on how to represent yourself in family court.