While surely the LawyerClock was created primarily for entertainment, the consequences of self-representation (or representation by an attorney who fails to diligently assist a client) can have dire, life-long consequences besides “merely” monetary losses. Consequences in terms of relationships—relationships with your children, your spouse, your employer, etc.—can be the most devastating consequences of Pro Se representation.
For example, if a Pro Se unwittingly leaves out important terms in his or her divorce, their spouse may legally be permitted to move to Europe and take the children (and the couple’s entire 401(K)) with him or her.
If a Pro Se is convicted of a felony he or she did not commit, they may have difficulty finding employment, or lose the ability to work in their field of expertise because their professional license was revoked, due to their criminal record.
If a Pro Se files an incorrect bankruptcy petition, it will be dismissed, and while he or she can re-file several times, the consequence is no automatic stay on foreclosures, garnishments, and repossessions, and the Pro Se may lose everything—their home, cars, heirlooms—despite that fact that he or she should be protected from many of these losses under bankruptcy law.
And of course, in a capital punishment trial, a Pro Se may lose his or her life. And while that risk exists no matter the quality of legal representation in a capital punishment trial (e.g., Pro Se Ted Bundy’s trial may have had the same result even with an attorney), there has been reasonable speculation that some Pro Se defendants have received the death penalty as a direct result of their Pro Se representation (e.g., in the case of Scott Panetti).
The cases used in the ProSeClock are actual cases. In each of the cases, the Pro Se lost when he or she attempted to litigate the case themselves–with disastrous results. With representation by competent counsel, the results were different. Follows are the case summaries:
Culpepper & Carroll, PLLC v. Cole, 929 So. 2d 1224 (La. 2006)
Cole hired an attorney because Cole wanted to contest his mother’s last will and testament (Cole had been left $2500 worth of property). Cole’s attorney told Cole that it was unlikely that Cole would win in a trial on the merits, so Cole’s attorney negotiated a settlement with the attorney for the mother’s estate. Cole’s attorney was able to obtain an offer from the estate’s attorney for property worth $21,600 more than he would receive under the will’s provisions. Payment to Cole’s attorney would have been 1/3 of the net value received. Despite Cole’s attorney’s advice that he would not prevail at trial, Cole refused the settlement offer believing he was entitled to even more of his mother’s estate and went to trial Pro Se. Cole not only lost at trial and on appeal, the court charged Cole with the costs of the trial.
Net loss for Cole after going Pro Se: More than $14,400.
Clock calculation for Cole: This case might take between 8-10 hours for an experienced probate attorney to get to settlement. Therefore, Cole would have realized a benefit of $1440 per hour for every hour Cole spent meeting, or talking, with his attorney (if he had not fired his attorney and gone Pro Se, that is).
Vulcan Metal Products, Inc. v. Schultz, 180 Ill. App. 3d 67, 535 N.E.2d 933 (1989)
Vulcan Metal Products sold Schultz window making equipment that did not work. Because Schultz had spent money to start a window replacement business (rented an office/warehouse, purchased business supplies, etc.), but was never able to make a window due to the faulty equipment, Schultz never paid Vulcan for the equipment. Vulcan sued Schultz, and Schultz failed to hire an attorney. In court, the judge ordered Schultz to pay Vulcan $7,020, which included the cost of the equipment, Vulcan’s attorney’s fees, and court cost.
Schultz then hired an attorney. Shultz’s attorney motioned the court to vacate the judgment against Schultz, which was granted. Shultz’s attorney then promptly filed a counter-suit against Vulcan. At the second trial (where Schultz was represented by his new attorney), Vulcan Metal Products was ordered to pay Schultz $45,759, which evidently represented $36,419 in damages as well as Shultz’ attorney’s fees (but not lost profits because of their uncertainty). The award was ultimately upheld on appeal and remand.
Net benefit to Schultz after hiring an attorney: $43,520+ after he hired an attorney (since in the first trial Schultz received a net loss of more than $7020, then gained a net of $36,419 on retrial).
Clock Calculation for Schultz: In this case, the attorney spent the same amount of time re-litigating as he would have spent in the first trial had Shultz hired him or her to begin with, which was likely about 35 hours including filing, discovery, trial prep, and trial. And while this time estimation gives the attorney an hourly rate of about $275 per hour, the attorney’s rate is of absolutely no consequence since attorney’s fees are often awarded in breach of contract cases, as they were here…i.e., it cost Schultz nothing to hire an attorney. Therefore, based on his attorney spending 35 hours, Schultz realized a benefit of $1243 per hour for every hour Schultz spent meeting, or talking, with his attorney.
Home Box Office v. Champs of New Haven, Inc., 837 F.Supp. 480, 484 (D.Conn.1993)
HBO sued Champs Sports Bar and its owner Bova for unauthorized use and exhibition of HBO programming. Defendants’ attorney motioned the court to withdraw from the case within weeks of being hired due to a “lack of communication and cooperation” by Bova (who likely failed to pay counsel a retainer since he was in court for refusing to pay for cable service—in a sports bar). Bova’s attorney forwarded appearance information to Bova, he failed to appear in court and a default judgment for $250,000 allowable under the Communications and Copyright Acts was entered against Champs/Bova.
Bova rehired his attorney, who motioned the court for relief. The court found the award excessive for Bova’s violation and reduced the award from $250,000 to $10,000.
After re-entry of Bova’s attorney, Bova’s realized a net benefit of at least $233,000 or more (depending on Bova’s attorney’s fees, which were likely less than the $7,000 allotted here).
Clock Calculation for Bova: Mr. Bova did something he ought not to have done, so he was going to pay in a civil court for his unauthorized use. Failing to hire an attorney, however, cost him ¼ of a million dollars. The attorney probably would have spent less than 10 hours settling Bova’s case. But even if the attorney went to trial in the first instance, the attorney likely would have spent no more than 15 hours asking for the court’s mercy as the attorney successfully did once he was retained for appeal. Therefore, at 15 hours, Bova realized a benefit of $15,533 per hour for every hour Bova spent meeting, or talking, with his attorney.
DISCLAIMER: Of course, nothing about the Pro Se Clock, or the cases it depicts, should be construed as legal advice. While the calculations were extrapolated from available records for each of the cases, and the time each attorney or firm spent on each case is an educated estimation, the figures may not be precise except, let’s hope, those contained in the record.
P.S, The translation of the Latin phrase at the top of the clock (Assecuratus non quaerit lucrum sed agit ne in damno sit) is: A wise man knows that in order to make a profit, he must avoid loss. In essence, if you make money in a business, or have adequate personal assets, you are not in a good position if you are subject to lose all of it. As the cases demonstrate, a lawyer protects against this disaster to the extent possible, much like an insurance policy does.