Tip 6: Know Your Friends
And Know who Isn’t a Friend
Today’s hint is a friendly reminder to know who your friends are and not to expect help from people who are actually against you or are the “referees” in the match. That is, you might be surprised how many people call up or ask the lawyer on the other side what to do, or how many hope or expect some sort of help or guidance from the judge.
Relying on the kindness of strangers – or of people with interests contrary to yours – will get you in trouble in the law. Instead, you must be able to rely on yourself and someone or some source that you trust. That’s one reason we emphasize finding and knowing the rules so much. You shoul never ask the other side “what” or “when” something is due. That is your responsibility, and it may even be unethical for the other side to give you any help.
The lawyer on the other side, and the judge and his or her staff, should not tell you anything that is remotely like “legal” advice, and most people take a very broad view of what that might be in the context of an actual suit. The other lawyer should not tell you anything because you are not a client and in fact have interests contrary to the client. And the judge is not supposed to take sides in any way. Do not look to them for any sort of advice, from when something is due to what, in any way, you should say or do.
The only time the lawyer will seriously consider what you should do is in order to argue that you have not done something you needed to do. In other words, in order to beat you. This is the nature of an adversary system.
The Judge and Clerk
Likewise, the only time a judge will consider the question is when you have missed a deadline or done something wrong. Again, it’s just the nature of the beast.
Clerks will only sometimes answer basic questions, they will almost never anything that starts with “what should I do it…” Instead, you can ask questions like “how long do I have to respond to…” or “is it necessary to set a hearing for argument in order for a motion to be considered, and how do you prefer me to do that?” You can ask scheduling type questions, but their job is never to tell you what the law requires or permits, or to guide you towards any particular action, because that sort of information might be considered legal advice or taking sides.
On the other hand, there are sources that might be helpful to you. Your Legal Leg Up, of course, has a great variety of information you can use, and there are some other websites that also have some information or people in the same boat as you are. Just remember that no one has the same interest in defending you that you have. The sites that are run by people who are or have been in the same boat are not always reliable in their suggestions because the things that worked for them don’t always work for everybody. For more on this, see Sometimes a Rain Dance is Just a Dance.
Stay on top of things. You can do this.