Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Do I Need An Attorney?

Question: I am a contractor in California. I am going into arbitration before the Contractors State License Board with a former customer. Do I need legal counsel?

Answer: Under certain circumstances, the California Contractors State License Board (“CSLB”) can offer arbitration to settle disputes between a contractor and a customer. If both parties agree to this procedure, then the arbitrator’s decision will be binding just as if the matter had been heard in court by a judge and jury. Therefore, the decision on whether or not to have an attorney is very important.

Whenever a client asks if they need an attorney, I like to use an analogy that we can all relate to: changing your own oil. Acting like your attorney is like trying to change your own oil. I took auto shop in high school and I can change my own oil. However, I can either spend half of my Saturday underneath my car or I can pay $20 to get someone else to do it and get a free car wash. Some people can and do represent themselves appropriately and others should leave the lawyering to the lawyers.

In a CSLB arbitration proceeding, both parties have the right to be represented by legal counsel. However, the customer will have one advantage: an expert witness paid for by the State. While legal representation is not required, I strongly recommend that contractors avoid going it alone in CLSB-sponsored arbitration.

About the Author
Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.

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