To my understanding, you can always represent yourself in court. So when is it a good idea to get a lawyer? I have a relatively simple case but could use a few pointers. I know legal proceedings have lots of administrative technicalities and I could use help with these sorts of things. I feel like the bulk of the work is carefully detailing what happened which feels more like the job of a news paper editor.

What options exist if I don't want to pay a lawyer a bunch of money and am willing to do most of the work myself?

  • 2
    Or would getting a real lawyer and spending only one hour of his time be better? That is pretty much unanswerable. It depends of the complexity of the case, of the stakes of the case (what happens if you lose because you missed something? a $500 fine? ten years in jail?), of your ability to understand the law and even about how you value your time, and other factors.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 15:32

2 Answers 2


As a person who has done a large amount of (mostly successful) pro se work, I have long advised people against doing pro se litigation in any case where they attach serious value to their case.

There are, of course, people who are well-suited to the task, but even if you have a natural aptitude for the core tasks involved (legal research, legal analysis, and legal writing), there are so many hidden traps on the procedural side that it is incredibly easy for the pro se litigant to lose a winning case with simple paperwork errors (as I have done myself).

Further, my experience is that judges are generally hostile to pro se litigants. They deal with many of them -- especially in the criminal arena -- who have no idea what they are doing and end up wasting tons of time to get a bad result that could have been avoided if they were not so arrogant. And then there are the pro se cranks who are convinced that the entire justice system is a conspiracy rigged against them personally. These people are generally obviously wrong and wasting everyone's time, but they are so crazed by their emotions that they can't possibly imagine that they might properly be on the wrong side of the law.

And when a judge sees "pro se," that's the first thing they think about. So if you're going to go that route, be aware that if you want to get back onto a level playing field, you not only need to know the law as well as the attorneys you'll be up against, you'll probably need to learn it better just to be taken seriously.

There are some venues where pro se litigation is more common -- small claims, for instance -- and where the judges are probably not quite as disinclined to pro se litigants. Someone who's just trying to beat a parking ticket or recover the last month's rent out of a long-gone tenant only has so much to lose, but if you're dealing with anything even slightly complex or consequential, I'd say that pro se litigation is usually a dangerous thing.

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    If, instead of you, your lawyer lost that winning case with that simple paperwork error, would you be in any better position?
    – Greendrake
    Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 5:46
  • 1
    Usually yes. You'd be able to sue the lawyer for malpractice and recover whatever you would have been able to recover in the original case.
    – bdb484
    Commented Dec 26, 2018 at 2:17

when is it a good idea to get a lawyer?

Only when you are not confident that you can put enough dedication to the matter & learning curve, or when you are not confident of your ability to cope with the emotional/frustrating toll of judicial proceedings. I do not mean this in an ironic way or to challenge you. It is just important to avoid a false sense of confidence.

However, if you decide to represent yourself in court, you will have much more control of your case than if you delegate it to some lawyer whose attention is split with many other unrelated cases.

Also, never get intimidated by pedantic or wasted phrases such as "he who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client". In the XXI century, most urban people can read and write, Canadian laws are written in your own language, and the Internet provides many informative resources for free. Furthermore, even knowledgeable attorneys happen to be clearly wrong about the law, as I pointed out here.

I feel like the bulk of the work is carefully detailing what happened which feels more like the job of a news paper editor.

It involves more than that. A newspaper editor does not get entangled with subtleties of a story or of the law, and subtleties are often decisive in judicial proceedings.

Litigation also involves intensive legal research so as to find case law (that is, binding court decisions) and statutes that support your position. The application of these laws to a particular case are often premised on subtleties. Hence my remark in the previous paragraph. A newspaper editor hardly ever knows what questions or evidence are required or would suffice for proving a case. This knowledge only comes through (self-)education and experience.

What options exist if I don't want to pay a lawyer a bunch of money and am willing to do most of the work myself, for example would pro bono be a good option?

Start by searching for "pro se" and "Canada" on the Internet. Some of the results might actually provide guidance on what procedural law(s) apply in your jurisdiction, the legislation, and so forth. As for searching case law, there should be a Canadian equivalent of http://www.leagle.com/leaglesearch (sorry I am not knowledgeable of the specifics of Canadian litigation/resources).

Based on your other post, I presume you are or will be getting acquainted with the Tenancy Act. I recently addressed here a question about the Act, showcasing the combination of that legislation and contract law (interestingly, many tenants presume their issue with the landlord is strictly about landlord-tenant legislation when in fact it has to do with contract law).

I am sure in a library will find plenty of useful books covering the basics of the legal system as well as the rules of civil procedure.

Find out whether the public has access to case files in Canadian courts. If so, go to a courthouse and study those files. Get acquainted with the drafting and format of pleadings, motions, responses, briefs, and so forth (although in Small Claims court much of this would be unnecessary, for small claims proceedings are much more simple). This will show you the practice aspect of what you learn from books.

When using a term that you consider essential to your case, be sure to consult its meaning in a legal dictionary (I do not know whether Black's Law Dictionary is applicable in Canadian litigation). The meaning of many words are much more specific in litigation compared to their common usage.

Or would getting a real lawyer and spending only one hour of his time be better?

I highly doubt it, especially if you have not gained any background in law. A lawyer will not explain things from scratch, let alone the intricacies you need to know.

The most you could get from speaking with a lawyer for an hour would be notions which are too generic to be of any use at all. Moreover, I doubt that a lawyer in a phone interview will give you any legal references for you to verify on your own.

In the very beginning of my litigation, I spoke with a law firm as assigned by a lawyer referral company. By then I already had some background in law and therefore I had specific questions. The guy from that law firm just kept babbling ambiguities very quickly. At the end of the phone call, I thought "nah, I will do this by myself". You might end up making that decision in your current or future matters.

  • Some good and bad advice mixed in here. Full disclosure counsels in favor of mentioning how things turned out when he decided, "nah, I will do this by myself": A total loss in the lawsuit against his mom (bit.ly/3hp2JiW) and in the lawsuit against his boss (bit.ly/3aXBI3W).
    – bdb484
    Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 20:53
  • @bdb484 Once again your unprovoked heckling pops up. (1) The lawsuit was not against my mom. Get your facts straight, lest you sound like a clown for coupling your advice about "full disclosure" with your inaccuracy. (2) Prevailing in court is hard when the judge presiding the cases is a felon (namely, judge Carol Kuhnke, who the police busted four months later for illegal possession of narcotics). (3) Corrupt rulings aside, the evidence of both an employer malingering amnesia and of a psychotic patient is very telling to everyone else as to the danger of dealing with these crooked persons. Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 22:06
  • The court seemed to think you were suing your mom, but maybe you saw it differently. Anyway, I don't mean to heckle, just to follow up with information that helps to answer the OP's question by illustrating the dangers we both discussed in our answers. Sorry you drew a bad judge; that's always a pain in the ass.
    – bdb484
    Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 22:25
  • Ah! It was your step-mother. My error.
    – bdb484
    Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 22:27
  • @bdb484 "I don't mean to heckle". Pure hypocrisy. You have a pattern of picking trouble. As part of your recurrent trolling, you have repeatedly made allegations such as "Judge Kuhnke actually ordered me to do it", which sounds quite delusional and makes you look unstable. You seriously need help on how to cope better with situations where a person declines to feed your arrogance. Heckling that person is a bad choice of yours. Commented Aug 23, 2020 at 23:00

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