For consumer problems, sometimes the best advocate has a law degree

Is this Airbnb lawsuit ending in no payout?

In a do-it-yourself world, when shouldn’t you do it yourself? That’s sometimes hard to know with a consumer problem.

Most garden-variety disputes are self-advocated either outside the legal system or in court — the legal term is pro se, which is Latin for “winging it” — and sometimes successfully. No one knows the exact number of pro se litigants in the United States, but a 2010 report by the American Bar Association found they were on the rise.

“No book nor DIY method is an adequate substitute for seeking legal advice from an attorney familiar with your particular circumstances,” says Joy Butler, author of The Guide Through the Legal Jungle, a statement made without a hint of irony. Yes, there are plenty of resources for people who want to help themselves, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission and your state Attorney General.

But it’s true, there’s nothing like lawyering up.

Reality check: I publish a list of executive contacts that can help you avoid darkening the door of a courtroom. And by way of full disclosure, I usually err on the side of doing everything myself. I’ve only hired a lawyer twice in my life — once to defend against a frivolous and ultimately unsuccessful defamation suit, and another time to negotiate an employment contract.

But when do you say “enough” and call a professional?

When it’s complicated
Some consumer problems are simple; some aren’t. When things turn complex, you may need to consult a pro, says Morris Lilienthal, a personal injury attorney. “It’s important to look at the complexity of the legal issue,” he says. Lilienthal recalls a recent case when a plaintiff gave a recorded statement to the other driver’s insurance company, even though the other driver was the at-fault party. “The recorded statement he gave to the other insurance carrier was used as a basis to deny his claim,” he remembers. If you’re unsure of yourself, you can make mistakes. A lawyer can help.

When you need an expert
If your consumer dispute requires someone with a deep knowledge of a subject, you may need to lawyer up. “You should consider an attorney when expertise is necessary — for example, certain areas of tax, business law, or intellectual property,” says Evan Walker, a lawyer based in La Jolla, Calif. You can quickly find yourself in deep water in a consumer dispute, and you’ll benefit from the steady hand of someone who knows their stuff.

When you’re being threatened
If someone is threatening to take you to court, you should talk to an attorney. “A consumer who’s been merely threatened with a lawsuit should at least talk to a lawyer, if not hire one,” says Daniel Watts, an attorney based in Carlsbad, Calif. For example, say you write a negative review of a sandwich shop on Yelp, and the business owner threatens to sue for defamation, consider at least asking a lawyer to review the complaint. “This takes just a few minutes of a lawyer’s time,” adds Watts, “but it’s worth it.”

When you’re being sued
If someone has filed a lawsuit against you, then you need to fight fire with fire. “Consumers should absolutely consult an attorney if they are sued,” says Sara J. O’Connell, a San Diego-based lawyer. And with good reason: In court, you could lose some of your rights if you don’t follow certain rules or meet certain deadlines. So you’ll want someone who knows the ins and outs of the system.

When there’s a tricky contract involved
“It’s true, we live in a DIY world,” says J.R. Skrabanek, senior counsel with the Snell Law Firm in Austin, Texas. “But there is no substitute for an attorney when a consumer’s complaint arises out of a contract, especially one containing a mandatory arbitration clause, a forum selection clause, or a choice of law clause.” These provisions are typically, though not always, enforceable, yet they massively influence a consumer’s options and pathways for actually achieving relief. “Engaging in a fight without an attorney in such a situation is fraught with peril,” says Skrabanek.

When you’re confused
And that happens more often than you think. You read a contract one way; a company interprets it differently. “Everyone can read a document and understand what the literal meaning is,” says Allie Petrova, the managing partner of a tax and business boutique law firm based in Greensboro, N.C. “A contract may tell you that New York law applies, but will not show on its face how a savvy attorney or a judge would interpret the contract under New York case law and statutory law.” People often miss nuances and details that could work in their favor. A lawyer can help with that.

Now that you’ve decided you need a lawyer, there’s just one small detail: the cost. Lawyers are expensive. The average hourly rate for the typical consumer law attorney is $361, according to the National Consumer Law Center. That’s a lot of money.

You can either pay up or consider a legal service plan like LegalShield, which could keep your costs down. In a perfect world, lawyers would be affordable to everyone. But then, if they were, there’d probably fewer consumer advocates — and you wouldn’t be reading this right now.

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at,,, and

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Generali Global Assistance

Generali Global Assistance has been a leading provider of travel insurance and other assistance services for more than 25 years. We offer a full suite of innovative, vertically integrated travel insurance and emergency services. Generali Global Assistance is part of The Europ Assistance (EA) Group, who pioneered the travel assistance industry in 1963 and continues to be the leader in providing real-time assistance anywhere in the world, delivering on our motto – You Live, We Care.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

VisitorsCoverage is one of the world’s most trusted providers of travel insurance for millions of global travelers in over 175 countries. Working with top-rated travel insurance partner providers, VisitorsCoverage’s award-winning search, compare and purchase technology simplifies the travel insurance process and finds the best deals for the coverage you need to explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at VisitorsCoverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend