litigant’s interest in personal liberty, not the general interests of litigants in vindicating legal rights, was the critical question in determining whether the litigant has a right to counsel.39 Accordingly, in a blow to civil Gideon activists, the Supreme Court held that there was a “presumption that there is no right to appointed counsel in the absence of at least a potential deprivation of physical liberty,” signaling the Supreme Court’s reluctance to extend the right to counsel to civil litigants.40 Lassiter remains good law.
If the case is not dismissed via summary judgment, defense counsel should always request a pretrial conference with the court. That way the pro se plaintiff can hear from the judge, before everyone is in the courtroom, what evidence may or may not be addressed during the trial, and what the expectations will be of the pro se plaintiff’s behavior during the trial.
Pitting pro se litigants against lawyers as if lawyers are enemies does far more disservice to your clients. I looked at your website, and I see that you toe a fine line between practicing without a license and simply giving pro se litigants enough rope to hang themselves. I understand that it’s a gimmick to make money for yourselves, but the nobler thing to do would be to direct these people to pro bono services instead of guiding them to shooting themselves in the foot by acting like the opposing party’s lawyer is out to get them and that what they don’t understand about the practice of law is somehow a trick or deception.
In the early 1970's, it was virtually unheard of to go into court without a lawyer. Sarah D. Eldrich, a divorce lawyer in New Haven, was divorced in 1972 when she was a 21-year-old student at Quinnipiac University. Ms. Eldrich, who worked at the New Haven Legal Assistance Association while she was attending college, knew how to draft the papers for a divorce, but said she was discouraged from doing the divorce herself. The experience, she recalled in a recent interview, made her feel powerless.
76. It is important to note that, although this Comment is limited to analyzing suits filed in federal district courts, a large volume of pro se litigation occurs in state courts. Some specialized courts, such as those focused on domestic relations, have high portions of their dockets devoted to pro se cases. However, many nonspecialized state courts also have a significant volume of pro se cases. Further, many pro se litigants in federal district courts appeal their cases, resulting in substantial pro se litigation in federal appellate courts. For more discussion of pro se litigation throughout the US legal system, see generally, Stephan Landsman, The Growing Challenge of Pro Se Litigation, 13 Lewis & Clark L Rev 439 (2009). For one example of pro se reform undertaken by specific state courts and the effects of those reforms on litigation, see Eovaldi and Meyers, 72 Nw U L Rev at 975–78 (cited in note 4).
Still others, like Self-Represented Litigation Network founder Richard Zorza, emphasize simplification of legal processes, including changing or eliminating the procedural and evidentiary rules that make the process so difficult. For example, the Tennessee Supreme Court has approved plain-language forms and instructions, written at a fifth- to eighth-grade reading level, for use in uncontested divorces between parties with minor children.
However, this book cannot serve as a complete guide to all the rules you need to know. For one thing, the exact rule in your court system may be somewhat different from the example we give. In that event, knowing about another similar rule—either a federal rule or another state’s rule—can help you locate the rule in your state. (See Chapter 23 for information on doing your own legal research.) Also, each court system has its own procedural rules that, though important, cannot be covered in this book. For example, local court rules set time limits for filing various kinds of documents and page limits on the length of those documents. You will have to learn and comply with these local requirements.
In a California study of family matters, one party appeared pro se in 2/3 of all domestic relations cases and in 40% of all child custody cases in 1991-95. California reports in 2001 that over 50% of the filings in custody and visitation are by pro se litigants. Urban courts report that approximately 80% of the new divorce filings are filed pro se.
Defense counsel will have to prepare defense witnesses so they respond politely and directly to tedious, often incomprehensible questions from the pro se plaintiff. If a defense witness loses his or her temper, or appears to be condescending to the pro se plaintiff, the jury will certainly find against any testimony given by the defense witness, even if the jury does not necessarily agree with the plaintiff’s view of the case.
From the prison library, Gideon appealed to the United States Supreme Court, stating that, because he was denied counsel, his Sixth Amendment rights had been violated. In its 1963 ruling, the Supreme Court held that representation by counsel, even by defendants who cannot afford to hire an attorney, is a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution. The opinion further stated that, because the Sixth Amendment does not distinguish between capital and non-capital offenses, the services of an attorney must be provided for an impoverished defendant in all criminal cases.
5. See generally, for example, Committee on Federal Courts of the New York State Bar Association, Pro Se Litigation in the Second Circuit, 62 St John’s L Rev 571 (1988) (suggesting solutions to combat an exploding pro se docket); Benjamin H. Barton and Stephanos Bibas, Triaging Appointed-Counsel Funding and Pro Se Access to Justice, 160 U Pa L Rev 967 (2012) (arguing that there are more cost-efficient approaches to improving pro se litigation than a constitutional right to counsel in civil cases because of the considerable resources that it would require).
In New Hampshire one party is pro se in 85% of all civil cases in the district court and 48% of all civil cases in the superior court in 2004. In probate court, both sides are unrepresented by lawyers in 38% of cases. In superior court domestic relations cases, almost 70% of cases have one pro se party, while in district court domestic violence cases, 97% of the cases have one pro se party.
Every pleading, motion, and other paper of a party represented by an attorney shall be signed by at least one attorney of record in the attorney's individual name, whose address shall be stated. A party who is not represented by an attorney shall sign the party's pleading, motion, or other paper and state the party's address. . . . The signature of an attorney or party constitutes a certificate by the signer that the signer has read the pleading, motion, or other paper; that to the best of the signer's knowledge, information, and belief formed after reasonable inquiry it is well grounded in fact and is warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law, and that it is not interposed for any improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation. If a pleading, motion, or other paper is not signed, it shall be stricken unless it is signed promptly after the omission is called to the attention of the pleader or movant. If a pleading, motion, or other paper is signed in violation of this rule, the court, upon motion or upon its own initiative, shall impose upon the person who signed it, a represented party, or both, an appropriate sanction, which may include an order to pay to the other party or parties the amount of the reasonable expenses incurred because of the filing of the pleading, motion, or other paper, including a reasonable attorney's fee.
Trial attorneys who are not mindful of the psychological and sociological elements at play when litigating against pro se parties risk exacerbating an already difficult situation by increasing the likelihood of protracted and unfocused litigation, appealable procedural missteps, and unmanaged expectations. Thus, at the outset of the lawsuit, an attorney facing a pro se opponent should make every effort to determine what is motivating the litigation (e.g., hurt feelings, anger, unmitigated expectations) and, if possible, the reason for the lack of representation. Throughout the pretrial process and during trial, a primary objective of counsel should be to strategically allow the pro se litigant to air his or her grievances in such a way as to limit the scope of triable issues while still being satisfied with his or her day in court.
Sara J. Berman is the Director of Academic and Bar Success Programs at the nonprofit AccessLex Institute Center for Legal Education Excellence, an organization committed to understanding the barriers that impede access to law school for historically underrepresented groups and improving access to law school for all; identifying actionable strategies and public policies to increase law school affordability; and strengthening the value of legal education. Berman is the author of several bar exam and legal education books and articles, including Pass the Bar Exam: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional Goals and Bar Exam MPT Preparation & Experiential Learning for Law Students: Interactive Performance Test Training. Before joining AccessLex, Berman worked for more than two decades in various law schools. She has more than 15 years of experience in distance learning in legal education, and co-authored Represent Yourself in Court: How to Prepare and Try a Winning Case and The Criminal Law Handbook: Know Your Rights, Survive the System, plain English primers on the civil and criminal justice systems. More on Berman’s publications at https://ssrn.com/author=2846291 and on AccessLex publications at https://www.ssrn.com/link/AccessLex-Institute-RES.html
Additionally, there is no obvious way to test the consistency or validity of these survey results. If different courts implemented substantively different reforms but mapped them to the same policies when answering the questionnaire, these results may underestimate the effectiveness of certain policies. For example, if one district court allowed pro se litigants to conduct extremely formal and limited communications with pro se clerks, while another district court allowed pro se litigants who showed up at the court to receive extensive counseling from pro se clerks, both district courts may report that they provided “direct communications with pro se clerks.”99 These two policies may be sufficiently distinct that they have very different influences on the outcomes of pro se litigation. The available survey data does not provide a reliable way to tease out these types of distinctions, and they are grouped together in the analysis below. Similarly, if overburdened district courts were simply sloppy in their survey responses, this methodology may in turn underestimate the results of these policies.
Lawyers and their bar associations who do get a glimmer of the access problem tend to think that it's strictly a money issue. They focus their efforts on pro bono services or what legal services programs still exist. This clearly confuses the forest for the trees. Poor and rich alike have a right to use the courts without an intermediary. Or to use a popular means of expressing a fundamental point: It's the monopoly, stupid. It probably is no coincidence that by directing their efforts towards the poor, lawyers are addressing the access problem only for people who can't afford to pay lawyers.
Not sure whether this applies to every trial court, but the public is also allowed to read (and order copies of) cases in the court. That gives pro se litigants a valuable exposure which is missing from literature regarding litigation. Both of my defamation lawsuits (different defendants) satisfy the prima facie elements of the offenses, but the structure and composition of my first complaint looks very unorthodox. By contrast, my second complaint reflects the exposure I gained in three months by taking note of others' complaints and motions.
Ted Bundy, a man convicted of murdering 3 women, and suspected of murdering 30 more, chose to represent himself on and off during two separate murder trials in Florida. Bundy appeared pro se at several hearings at the beginning of his 1979 murder trial, which was the first nationally televised trial in U.S. history. Many people believed Bundy’s insistence on taking the reins of his defense as a pro se litigant on many occasions to be hubris, as he believed he was more intelligent than investigators, prosecutors, and even defense attorneys on the case.
While most litigants are plaintiffs, about ten percent are defendants. The legal challenges facing the clinic’s visitors are varied and diverse: for example, clinic visitors have included an immigrant woman sued by a hospital for payment of her late husband’s medical bills and threatened with having her wages garnished; a woman who sued the police after her home was broken into by police with drawn weapons while her toddler granddaughter was playing on the floor; and a woman who sued her employer for sex discrimination and through mediation received a five-figure settlement.
Although a defendant might some knowledge of the law, knowledge alone is not enough to win a case. The defendant must be able to argue their position and persuade the parties that they are not guilty. Again, the average person will usually find it difficult to argue if they lack training in communication and argumentation skills. Language barriers can further complicate the situation.
132. See generally D. James Greiner, Dalié Jiménez, and Lois R. Lupica, Self-Help, Reimagined, 92 Ind L J 1119 (2017). It is difficult to synthesize their conclusions into a simple path toward providing pro se litigants with effective assistance, but they emphasize in particular the need for breaking legal problems down into their constituent components, including mental, psychological, and cognitive issues, as well as identifying and implementing relevant research from nonlegal literature to address those problems. They emphasize in particular that often the “relevant tasks have little to do with formal law.” Id at 1172.
The challenges presented by the large volume of pro se cases in federal district courts may require meaningful changes to achieve a full resolution. In order to make headway on that front, reformers must properly contextualize and understand the nature of pro se litigation in those courts and evaluate the successes and failures of efforts that have been undertaken thus far.
There’s no way to avoid it: If you represent yourself in court, you’re going to run into a lot of unfamiliar legal terminology. This book tries to translate the most common jargon into plain English. For quick reference, check the glossary at the back of the book. You can find more plain-language definitions in Nolo’s online legal dictionary, available for free at www.nolo.com.
Complaints about the performance or behavior of Clerk's Office staff should be made to the Clerk of Court or to one of the judges. Complaints about judges' decisions on procedural matters or the merits of disputes can only be addressed through the regular appellate process. Any person alleging that a judge has engaged in conduct prejudicial to the effective and expeditious administration of the business of the courts, or that a judge is unable to discharge all the duties of the office by reason of mental or physical disability may file a complaint pursuant to the Rules of the Tenth Circuit Judicial Council Governing Complaints of Judicial Misconduct or Disability.
53. A factor of 1.19 indicates that a represented litigant is 1.19 times more likely to win than a pro se litigant in the same case. Some of these studies were conducted in different litigation contexts, and there is no a priori reason to believe that access to counsel has a similar impact on all types of litigation, so a large range in win ratios like the one seen here could conceivably be accurate. Still, the gap between a win ratio of 1.19 and 13.79 is sufficiently large to suggest uncertainty in these results. See Rebecca L. Sandefur, The Impact of Counsel: An Analysis of Empirical Evidence, 9 Seattle J Soc Just 51, 70 (2010).
Many pro se resources come from these sources: local courts, which may offer limited self-help assistance; public interest groups, such as the American Bar Association, which sponsors reform and promotes resources for self-help, and commercial services, which sell pre-made forms allowing self-represented parties to have formally correct documents. For example, the Self-Represented Litigation Network (SRLN) is an organization whose web site, srln.org, is dedicated to issues related to self-represented litigation and offers a curated resource library for legal professionals (courts, lawyers, and allies) engaged in pro se litigation. The organization provides no assistance with particular complaints. "Self-help" legal service providers must take care not to cross the line into giving advice, in order to avoid "unauthorized practice of law", which in the U.S. is the unlawful act of a non-lawyer practicing law.
Using delaying tactics to maximize the inconvenience and cost of litigation. For example, in the case of GMAC v. HTFC Corp., a deponent (on advice of counsel) provided a long and meandering answer, and in response to the deposing attorney‘s protest stated, “I‘m going to keep going. I‘ll have you flying in and out of New York City every single month and this will go on for years. And by the way, along the way GMAC will be bankrupt and I will laugh at you.”
Comment offers the first publicly available empirical assessment of several pro se reform efforts thus far. The analysis shows that these pro se reforms have not succeeded in improving pro se litigants’ win rates at trial. This Comment thus suggests that, while pro se reforms likely have important merits, such as enabling a more thorough and dignified hearing process for pro se litigants, on average these reforms do not alter the final outcomes of the litigation process.
THE COURT AND CLERKS DO NOT COLLECT THE MONEY. The responsibility for that is on plaintiff, but the Court and the Pro Se Staff in Room 602 will assist in the process. Some defendants are unwilling to pay and trying to collect requires time and patience. In seeking to collect, plaintiff has a right to telephone the defendant at reasonable times. Some of the principal steps that may be taken to collect a judgment are:
49. See, for example, Barton and Bibas, 160 U Pa L Rev at 980 (cited in note 5) (identifying flaws in the arguments of civil Gideon advocates); Barton, 62 Fla L Rev at 1249 (cited in note 36) (describing it as “quite unlikely that the current Court would even take a civil Gideon case”). See also generally Laura K. Abel, A Right to Counsel in Civil Cases: Lessons from Gideon v. Wainwright, 15 Temple Political & CR L Rev 527 (2006).
My question is: Can I serve my soon to be ex-wife a Discovery request even though I’m pro se and representing myself? I was served with a request from her attorney after our hearing for temporary alimony and child support and I want to counter act with a request as well. Her attorney is taking full advantage of my pro se circumstances and incompetent knowledge of divorce law as she should. I don’t want this to be an easy win for her when I have evidence that can work in my favor. I just need to find the best way to get it in front of the judge without being bullied in the court room. I don’t know my rights as a pro se litigant and I need as much advice as possible. I picked up her financial affidavit from the clerks office and she’s leaving out a lot of income that needs to be uncovered in my case. The issue is being overwhelmed by all of her attorney deadlines and demands which sidetracks my course of action to respond in my defense appropriately.
When pro se litigants feel they are being shut out from the process or that their voices are being stifled, these challenges—and the accompanying risks—are amplified. In fact, studies show that notions of fairness heavily influence and guide pro se litigants. Id. at 4. Indeed, “research has repeatedly established that when litigants perceive that a decision-making process is fair, they are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome.” Self-Represented Litigation Network, Handling Cases Involving Self-Represented Litigants: A National Bench Guide for Judges 2–4 (2008).
Massachusetts District Court and Prospects for the Future, 126 Harv L Rev 901, 914 n 57 (2013) (discussing a recent American Bar Association (ABA) recommendation to provide pro bono counsel to civil litigants in cases involving “direct threats to the provisions of basic human needs, including shelter”). The ABA has also recommended appointed counsel for cases involving sustenance, safety, health, child custody, or removal proceedings, highlighting the breadth of potential “basic needs” that some advocates believe merit the appointment of counsel in civil pro se litigation. See, for example, Jaya Ramji-Nogales, Andrew I. Schoenholtz, and Philip G. Schrag, Refugee Roulette: Disparities in Asylum
University of Illinois Law School's Professor Robert Lawless, a national expert in personal credit and bankruptcy, showed that, the rate of non-attorney filings in bankruptcy courts by debtors was 13.8% for chapter 13 cases, and 10.1% for chapter 7 cases. The rate was as high as 30% to 45% for major urban areas, such as California and New York city. US Bankruptcy Court of Arizona reported 23.14% cases filed pro se in October 2011, up from 20.61% a year before.