Handling Cases Involving Self-Represented Litigants: A Benchguide for Judicial Officers. (January 2007). Center for Families, Children, and the Courts. California Administrative Office of the Courts This comprehensive bench guide, the first of its kind, was designed to help judicial officers handle the increase in cases involving self-represented litigants. Twelve chapters of helpful suggestions are provided, along with sample scripts and checklists.
There is limited Supreme Court jurisprudence on trial-court reforms for civil pro se litigants. However, an extensive body of case law establishes the right to counsel for indigent criminal litigants and then denies that right to civil litigants who cannot afford counsel. Moreover, in one recent case, Turner v Rogers,13 the Supreme Court established a limited right to procedural protections for civil pro se litigants, creating the potential for new jurisprudence establishing new rights for civil pro se litigants.14
Many pro se resources come from these sources: local courts, which may offer limited self-help assistance;[62] public interest groups, such as the American Bar Association, which sponsors reform and promotes resources for self-help[citation needed], 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.[63] "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.[64]
The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to representation by counsel.  In 1975, the Supreme Court held that the structure of the Sixth Amendment necessarily implies that a defendant in a state criminal trial has a constitutional right to proceed without counsel when he voluntarily and intelligently elects to do so. See Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975).  Thus, an unwilling defendant may not be compelled by the State to accept the assistance of a lawyer.  A defendant's right to self-represenatation in federal criminal proceedings is codified in 28 U.S.C. § 1654. 

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).
Once convicted, a prisoner no longer has the right to a public defender. Motions for post conviction relief are considered civil motions. Brandon Moon is an example of an unsuccessful pro se litigant who became successful when his case was taken by a lawyer. Moon's case was taken by the Innocence Project, and he was released after 17 years in jail for a rape that he did not commit.[50]
If you are a judge interested in teaching a lesson to elementary, middle or high school students, please explore Judges in the Classroom. Proven interactive lesson plans are available for download from the website that focus on the law and legal process. You may also sign up as an interested judge to be contacted if teachers from your area request a judge.
Oh my Lord Sonja, you’re my new hero! I went at it with an attorney on Avvo; I asked a legal question and he more or less belittled me for thinking that I had a case and then for thinking that I could actually handle it on my own. This guy was a real jerk! l know I have a winning case but there are not many lawyers in my area that are familiar enough with the statutes to take it pro bono and therefore take the risk. Even the legal opinions that I’ve read say the case law is sparse. Thank you for standing up for pro se litigants and setting the record straight.
Our replies to Avvo questions should not be considered specific legal advice to any individual, and no attorney-client relationship is formed with you. Our aim is to provide general principles that may be useful to the Avvo community as a whole. You should seek individual legal advice pertaining to your specific factual situation, and the laws applicable to your jurisdiction. Moore & Moore Attorneys at Law -- [email protected]
Not surprisingly, this disparity in legal knowledge and skill on the part of pro se litigants produces a host of unique problems for the courts and the bar in general and, in particular, for trial counsel. Nevertheless, despite the many challenges they bring to the table, pro se litigants are here to stay, and their numbers are steadily growing. According to the National Center for State Courts, the number of pro se litigants in civil cases continues to rise, and there is every reason to believe this trend will continue. https://www.ncsc.org/. In fact, the number of annual non-prisoner pro se filings each year in federal courts alone tops about 25,000 and constitutes a significant section of the federal caseload. Jefri Wood, Pro Se Case Management for Nonprisoner Civil Litigation (Fed. Judicial Ctr. Sept. 28, 2016).
Many pro se resources come from these sources: local courts, which may offer limited self-help assistance;[62] public interest groups, such as the American Bar Association, which sponsors reform and promotes resources for self-help[citation needed], 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.[63] "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.[64]

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.


Following Gideon, legal activists began a push to extend the right to counsel into the civil sphere. Advocates argued that the right to counsel should be extended to civil cases in which the litigants’ essential rights were at stake.36 Those activists have had limited success; the Supreme Court has declined to find a right to counsel in civil litigation. In one notable case, Lassiter v
Many pro se resources come from these sources: local courts, which may offer limited self-help assistance;[62] public interest groups, such as the American Bar Association, which sponsors reform and promotes resources for self-help[citation needed], 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.[63] "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.[64]
Though dramatic, these numbers do not necessarily imply that lack of access to counsel worsens case outcomes for pro se litigants. There are a number of plausible explanations for low win rates by pro se litigants even if pro se litigants are not disadvantaged in court. For instance, and likely most significantly, because lawyers frequently work on a contingency fee basis, a lawyer is more likely to agree to work on behalf of a plaintiff with a strong case than a plaintiff with a weak case.84 The stronger the plaintiff’s case, the higher the expected damages and expected payout for the lawyer. Hence, it is less likely that strong cases proceed pro se.

The American Board of Trial Advocacy (ABOTA), a national group of experienced trial lawyers, adopted the Principles of Civility, Integrity and Professionalism, which are “intended to discourage conduct that demeans, hampers or obstructs our system of justice.” Principle 19 states that attorneys should “never take depositions for the purpose of harassment or to burden an opponent with increased litigation expenses.”


If the jury or the judge awarded costs to the prevailing party, it is necessary to prepare a bill of costs incurred in the suit for the approval of the court. Costs are specified by Local Rule 54.1 as to what is allowable, and only those costs listed as allowable may be recovered by the prevailing party. Within fourteen (14) days after entry of judgment, under which the costs may be claimed, the prevailing party may serve and file a cost bill requesting taxation of costs itemized thereon.
If you represent yourself in an admin­istrative hearing you should be as respect­ful to the ALJ as you would be to a judge, even though the former wears a suit and the latter a robe. Moreover, whether you address your arguments to a judge or an ALJ, you have the same need to present a clear and persuasive case. Make sure you understand the basis of an agency’s action, or what evidence you need to produce to uphold your claim. Also, any witnesses you rely on should attend the hearing, and you should be ready to support your claim with documents and records.
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.
No Guidance on Timing or Parties.  The forms do not give any guidance on when certain kinds of pleadings or claims or defenses have to be raised, or who has to be sued.  Some pleadings, claims, or defenses have to be raised at a certain point in the case or within a certain period of time.  And there are limits on who can be named as a party in a case and when they have to be added.  Lawyers and people representing themselves must know the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the caselaw setting out these and other requirements.  The current Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are available, for free, at www.uscourts.gov.
×