Against this background, it doesn’t normally make sense to interpret your adversary’s offer to “talk settlement” as a sign of weakness. Nor should you be reluctant to be the one to suggest a negotiated settlement. In fact, judges, arbitrators, and mediators routinely urge adversaries to explore settlement even if previous attempts have failed. It’s a wise person who never closes the door to a reasonable settlement.
61. See, for example, Drew A. Swank, In Defense of Rules and Roles: The Need to Curb Extreme Forms of Pro Se Assistance and Accommodation in Litigation, 54 Am U L Rev 1537, 1583–93 (2005) (arguing that, by playing an active role in the litigation process, a judge becomes an interested party and may become biased—which violates the ideal American judicial role of a “neutral referee”—and may be unfairly advantaged if they are excused for procedural mistakes while represented litigants still bear the costs of procedural mistakes their lawyers may make).
Oftentimes, self-represented litigants become reactive when there’s a lawyer on the other side. Instead of getting ahead of things or running their own case, they let the lawyer take the lead. They spend so much time responding to discovery requests, summary judgment motions, motions to dismiss, and other filings that they don’t formulate a strategy of their own. They don’t do their own discovery or object to certain requests because they’re swamped and often intimidated. So, they’re always behind and in a constant reactive state. If a wise opponent sees how reactive you are, they can walk you right into an error. So, take control of your case. Never let a lawyer think that he’s in charge of it.
Books containing all of these rules should be available in a public law library. You may also want to purchase these books separately from the Clerk’s Office in the courthouse in which your case is filed, or from a legal bookstore, so that you can have them close at hand for reference as you read through this book and go to court. You can also find most court rules on the Internet. The information in Chapter 23 will help you start your search.
Accept all complaints, petitions and responses filed, in whatever form, and create user-friendly forms. Among the most obvious of barriers to equal access are rules governing the form of the papers people need to start a lawsuit or defend themselves if they are sued. Complicated pleading rules definitely operate to deny equal access. In fact, a simple plain-English statement of claim (as is used in many small claims courts) or a fill-in-the-blanks, check the boxes type of complaint form used in California courts is all that's needed in most common kinds of cases. Later, the legal and factual issues can be sorted out by a mediator or judge. The Superior Court of Maricopa County has created a number of easy-to-use forms for its Family Court, and by all accounts, people are able to handle them with little help from court personnel.
According to the 1996 report on pro se by University of Maryland Law School, 57% of pro se said they could not afford a lawyer, 18% said they did not wish to spend the money to hire a lawyer, 21% said they believed that their case was simple and therefore they did not need an attorney. Also, ABA Legal Needs Study shows that 45% of pro se believe that "Lawyers are more concerned with their own self promotion than their client's best interest."
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Times change and occasionally so too does the legal profession. In 2013, the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association passed a resolution “encouraging practitioners—when appropriate—to consider limiting the scope of their representation, including the unbundling of legal services as a means of increasing access to legal services.” Now, many attorneys provide a hybrid form of legal representation generally known as “limited-scope” or “unbundled representation.”
Make sure you follow those instructions! At that point, you will be given so many days to serve the defendant with the court summons. In some districts, the plaintiff has the choice of either delivering the summons himself, a friend deliver it, or having a federal Marshal deliver it. It is most effective to have either a federal Marshal deliver the summons, or a really big guy in a suit. Whoever delivers the summons must make a note of who the summons is delivered to, what the date is, and what time it was delivered. Record this information on the appropriate form that is sent to you with the summons, and take it back to the district court.
In the years since this book first appeared, the number of people representing themselves in civil court cases has continued to grow. A recent collection of statistics by the National Center for State Courts shows that the vast majority of family law cases involve at least one, and often two, self-represented parties. In California, over 4.3 million people using the courts are self-represented; in New Hampshire, 85% of civil cases in the trial court involve at least one self-represented party. Many courts report an upsurge in self-representation. (Memorandum on Pro Se Statistics, 9/25/2006, National Center for State Courts, available at www.ncsconline.org/WC/publications/memos/prosestatsmemo.htm.) Other research indicates that at least one party was self-represented in more than two-thirds of domestic relations cases in California and in nearly 90% of divorce cases in Phoenix, Arizona, and Washington, DC. (See Jona Goldschmidt, et al., Meeting the Challenge of Pro Se Litigation: A Report and Guidebook for Judges and Court Managers, A Consumer Based Approach (1998).) These studies are substantiated by many civil court administrators and judges, who estimate that the number of self-represented
Now most pro se litigants are at a disadvantage in contested litigation. It may be awkward or inappropriate for them to appear both as counsel and as a witness. They're deprived of the judgment of an independent third party in framing the case, in evaluating how to present the evidence and in forming legal arguments and also in making sure that it is reason rather than emotion that steers how the case is conducted. That's why Judges sometimes warn a party who is proceeding pro se of the old saying that anyone who represents himself in court has a fool for a client and an ass for an attorney.
Their rights notwithstanding, pro se litigants create many obstacles for our judicial system as a whole. Indeed, pro se lawsuits are viewed by many as “a type of litigation that’s just riddled with problems on every level.” Lois Bloom, Statement at Pro Se Litigation Panel Discussion, National Workshop for District Judges I (Fed. Judicial Ctr. Mar. 22, 1995). As one commentator has stated,
In 2011, the Federal Judicial Conference surveyed federal court clerks offices regarding pro se issues. They found that only 17 of 62 responding judges report that discovery is taken in most non prisoner pro se cases and only 13 reported that discovery is taken in most prisoner pro se cases.:21 In the same survey, 37% of judges found that most pro ses had problems examining witnesses, while 30% found that pro ses had no or few problems examining witnesses.:22 53% found that represented parties sometimes or frequently take advantage of pro se parties.:23 Only 5% reported problems of pro ses behaving inappropriately at hearings.:24 Respondents to the FJC study did not report any orders against non prisoner pro se litigation.
If the ALJ rules against you, you typically can appeal within the agency. If the agency’s decision is still unfavorable, you have “exhausted your administrative remedies” and can go to court and file a pleading asking a judge to overturn it. However, the judge who reviews the case will decide it based on the information you provided at the hearing. You won’t be able to present new evidence in court.
3. Many commentators share the same concerns about indigent criminal defendants. However, because criminal defendants are guaranteed access to counsel, they face a somewhat different set of challenges than pro se civil litigants and are not the focus of the analysis of this Comment. For one critical discussion of the treatment of indigent criminal defendants, see generally Stephen B. Bright, Legal Representation for the Poor: Can Society Afford This Much Injustice?, 75 Mo L Rev 683 (2010). But see J. Harvie Wilkinson III, In Defense of American Criminal Justice, 67 Vand L Rev 1099, 1127–29 (2014) (arguing that representation of criminal indigent defendants is generally of high quality).
Tables 1.1 and 1.2 demonstrate that a large proportion of clerks’ offices and chief judges at district courts believe that pro se reform measures are helpful to nonprisoner pro se litigants.71 For example, the majority of clerks’ offices surveyed in the FJC Survey believe that making information and guidance tailored to pro se litigants readily available is one of the most effective measures for helping nonprisoner pro se litigants. The vast majority of responding chief judges believe handbooks and standardized materials are helpful, and about 25 percent of chief judges surveyed believe that personal assistance by the clerk’s office staff is helpful to pro se litigants. Often, these handbooks and standardized materials are extensive. For example, the Northern District of Illinois’s website currently has a thirty-five-page generalized handbook advising pro se litigants72 and specific instructions and forms for how to handle civil rights, employment discrimination, and mortgage foreclosure cases.73
The Judiciary Act of 1789, one of those laws, states that "in all courts of the United States, the parties may plead and manage their own causes personally." It follows that federal judges must respect the pro se litigants' right to represent themselves. Thus, the Supreme Court and Congress have means to remedy the problems with federal judges who disrespect and ignore the rights of pro se litigants.
Family law and bankruptcy matters merit separate chapters for a number of reasons. Each involves specialized hearings that you don’t find in other types of civil cases. Also, judges usually decide these disputes alone, without juries. And litigants frequently represent themselves in both family law and bankruptcy cases. This is especially true in divorce court, where at least one of the parties is self-represented in 80% of cases.
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Tables 2E and 2F, the final tables in this Part, examine how win rates for pro se litigants vary across different types of cases. The win ratios in Table 2E compare the probability of a plaintiff winning when both parties are represented to the probability of a plaintiff winning when the plaintiff is a pro se plaintiff but the defendant is represented. In the column “Plaint Rep’d / Plaint Pro Se,” the number 2.0 would mean that plaintiffs win twice as often when both parties are represented as compared to cases in which the plaintiff is pro se. The higher the number, the better represented litigants fare relative to pro se litigants.
We often talk to parents about whether to file for child custody pro se, a legal term also known as 'self-representation.' In general, we recommend that parents proceed with caution when it comes to filing for child custody or child support pro se. The following questions and tips can help you determine the best course of action related to your case.
Although EDNY created this office partially in response to the growth of pro se litigation in that district, its caseload appears broadly representative of pro se litigation more generally as of 1999, shortly before the creation of the magistrate judge’s office.121 The concerns that led to EDNY’s decision to appoint this special magistrate judge—the difficulty of fairly and efficiently managing the large pro se docket and the need for specialized resources to do so—seem to echo the same primary concerns that other courts and commentators have expressed about the pro se litigation process.122
If the pro se plaintiff fails to make a jury request, defense counsel should think hard as to whether a jury trial should be requested. Will the pro se plaintiff gain momentum in the eyes of the jury, simply because they are acting on their own behalf? Will defense counsel automatically be seen as part of the “system,” regardless of the merits of the case? Or, will the plaintiff come across as an unreasonable “zealot” who is out to seek revenge against the defendant with an incoherent set of facts and unlikable witnesses?
There are some notable records of pro se litigants winning more than $2,000 as plaintiffs: Robert Kearns, inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper who won more than $10 million from Ford for patent infringement; Dr. Julio Perez (District of Southern New York 10-cv-08278) won approximately $5 million in a federal jury trial from Progenics Pharmaceuticals for wrongful termination as a result of whistleblowing; Reginald and Roxanna Bailey (District of Missouri 08-cv-1456), a married couple, who together won $140,000 from Allstate Insurance in a federal jury trial; George M. Cofield, a pro se janitor, won $30,000 from the City of Atlanta in 1980; and Jonathan Odom, a pro se prisoner, who while still a prisoner, won $19,999 from the State of New York in a jury trial. Timothy-Allen Albertson, who appeared in pro. per., was awarded $3,500 in 1981 in a judgment by the San Francisco Municipal Court entered against the Universal Life Church for defamation by one of its ministers.