I often have clients ask questions such as "Do I really need an attorney?" or "Can't I just do it myself?". These questions are especially common in divorce and custody matters. Certainly people have every right to represent themselves in litigation. The Court even provides some self-help materials to assist those who believe that they cannot afford an attorney of those who simply want to represent themselves. For some people, self-representation can work well. If the parties are not fighting about anything and do not have children or substantial assets, these DIY divorces can be a blessing. However, for most people, the desire to save money upfront often increases the costs of litigation. If your case is contested and there is an attorney on the other side, don't be surprised if they try to catch you on technicalities as missing deadlines can carry significant consequences.
When you hire an attorney at the beginning of litigation, the attorney can formulate a strategy and work to implement that strategy throughout the duration of the case. They can help you set the right tone and ensure that the proper steps are taken along the way. The disclosures and the discovery all lead into the final product. Every step in the case should be intended to further that plan.
When an attorney enters the case in the middle of litigation or right before a hearing, their hands can be tied to some degree. If discovery is closed, it may be difficult to obtain additional evidence that may necessary or helpful. If a hearing is imminent, the ability to obtain necessary evidence may be limited. Coming into a case late in the process if often more expensive that starting having an attorney through the entire process. When I come into a case in the later stages of litigation, I often have to spend significant time working backwards to learn the case, determine what has already happened, what evidence is available, and what evidence we still need. Sometimes in working backwards I find myself either stuck in a strategy that I don't agree with or having to work to change that strategy. This working backwards and correcting the case can often be more difficult and more expensive than had it been done correctly from the onset.
My advice is don't be penny wise and pound foolish. Talk to an attorney early in the process. If you can't afford to hire an attorney to handle the case, you should still talk to an attorney. Utah Legal Services and the Timpanogos Legal Center offer free clinics in St. George where you can get advice from an attorney. Many attorneys in town offer either free or reduced rate consultations. Use that opportunity to review documents you intend to use and/or to formulate a big picture strategy for your case. Knowing the big picture will help keep you on the right track.