In lean economic times, more employees are representing themselves in labor dispute cases, both in court and in arbitration. They do not think they can afford a labor attorney. However, studies show it is a very risky decision.
A recent study by the American Arbitration Association shows that pro se litigants – employees who represent themselves – won just 20 percent of the time and were awarded an average of $12,200, compared with an average of $29,000 for employees represented by counsel. The study encompassed nearly 4,000 cases that were arbitrated, or negotiated in a formal procedure outside of court.
Inside the already overly taxed court system, it is not much better. Judges are decrying the number of new pro se cases because they have to give extra time to claimants who are not well-versed in the nuances and byzantine nature of labor and employment law. Like people in any other profession, judges have to do more with less, and, given the serious mantle they wear, cannot skimp.
Many claimants believe a judge will help them with their case and just be understanding about the things a claimant does not know. However, this puts an unfair burden on judges and court personnel at a time when judicial budgets are being cut. Even under ordinary circumstances, you cannot rely on a judge to help you:
An administrative law judge’s job is to listen to the evidence, rule on objections to it, and decide the case based on evidence that is admissible and in line with the rule of law. An experienced attorney speaks legal language and understands case law and precedent. He or she also knows what is and is not admissible evidence.
Employment law is extremely complex and is constantly being updated. It is extremely difficult to square new laws, such as the Frank-Dodd Act and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, with the Fair Labor Standards Act and the many regulations that apply to particular fields and classes of workers. It is a constantly evolving field and some of the laws conflict. It is far better to rely upon a trained attorney to research applicable statutes in a given case.
Additionally, each law has different applications that depend on the number of employees a company has and the type of work it does. It is clear to see that anyone who takes on their own case has a formidable job ahead.
Finally, representing yourself requires patience and a level of objectivity that many people find difficult to attain. You would need to be willing to stick to facts and leave emotions far away. Anyone who is suing their employer is understandably angry, indignant or upset; none of these feelings must present themselves in a courtroom or at an arbitration table. A skilled neutral third party who knows case law is the best person for this job.
The money you invest in an employment attorney is well spent. Research shows that it can net you a larger award in the long run. An ethical, experienced lawyer will discuss fees and expectations with you. Many will work with you on payment plans. Most give free consultations to help you decide.