When an individual decides to file a lawsuit, they can choose whether they want to have an attorney represent them in the case. But, do I need an attorney to file a Qui Tam lawsuit? The answer is yes. You don’t have the choice to represent yourself with qui tam lawsuits. If you intend to file a qui tam lawsuit, you must do so with an attorney.
Filing a Lawsuit Pro Se
When an individual decides to start a lawsuit, they normally get to decide if they will hire an attorney or not. Most people will not take this route; they prefer the confidence that comes from having a seasoned attorney on their side. When a plaintiff does try a case without the help of an attorney, they are acting “pro se.”
There are several reasons why an individual may make this decision. One of the biggest reasons is to save money. In complex cases, such as qui tam actions brought under the False Claims Act, a client may feel what the attorney earns is more than they deserve. Given that, they choose to go it alone, without legal counsel.
Trying a case without the help of an attorney isn’t the smartest thing to do, but it’s theoretically possible and allowable – most of the time. One exception to this rule exists with qui tam lawsuits.
Do I Need an Attorney to File a Qui Tam Lawsuit? Yes, Only an Attorney May File a Qui Tam Lawsuit
A whistleblower who wishes to file a qui tam lawsuit must have an attorney represent them. This is because the qui tam lawsuit isn’t really the whistleblower’s case. It belongs to the US government. Therefore, it’s the government that should make the decision as to whether an attorney will bring a qui tam action.
Just like you’re able to choose if you want to hire an attorney or go pro se with your case, the US government has that choice as well. The only difference is that the US government realizes it’s not wise to try a qui tam lawsuit without an attorney’s help.
Why Should You Use an Attorney to File a Qui Tam Lawsuit?
Besides the fact that the law requires it, using an attorney to file a quit tam lawsuit – or any other lawsuit, for that matter – is simply a good idea. Many people who try a case pro se do so because they think they know what they’re doing. Unfortunately, they usually don’t. Let’s look at an example to illustrate.
Let’s say you want to sue your insurance company for refusing to pay a homeowner’s claim covered under your insurance policy. You’re confident you are correct, and the insurance company is wrong. You decide to file a lawsuit for breach of contract. Do you know how to do that? Maybe the person at the front desk at the clerk of courts is really helpful and tells you how to do it. Great! You’re all done with filing the complaint, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Did you file the complaint in the right court? “Of course,” you say, because you filed it in the county where your house is. But what if you could choose between two county courts? The county you live in is very conservative, or what most attorneys would consider “pro-defense.” But a neighboring county is what many attorneys would consider very “pro-plaintiff.” Do you still think you picked the right county courthouse to file your lawsuit? Just figuring out where to file your complaint is complex enough, even in an example that often trips up some attorneys.
And we haven’t even gotten to your complaint yet. Did you prepare it properly? Is your state a fact pleading or notice pleading jurisdiction? How and where do you intend to serve the complaint?
It’s easy to see how something that seems so simple is actually rather complex. If you’re having trouble figuring out how to serve a complaint on an insurance company in a simple lawsuit, how will you figure out how to serve the defendant in your qui tam action? If you don’t know, that’s good — that was a trick question! You actually don’t serve the complaint on the defendant in a qui tam action after it’s filed with the court. You could get into serious legal trouble if you served a qui tam complaint on the defendant while the case was still under seal (kept secret).
Bottom Line? Get an Attorney
If you don’t think you need an attorney to file a qui tam lawsuit, you’re wrong. Fair or not, that’s the law. So if you’re thinking about hiring a qui tam attorney, call 770.643.1606 to speak with Bothwell Law Group.