It is not the purpose of this chapter to teach the pro se litigant legal research and writing nor is it our goal to sort out the complexities of applying the law, whether it be statutory or case law, to the facts of a particular case. The law prohibits personnel in the Clerk's office from providing information regarding the application of the law to the facts of any case. The intention here is to provide information that is basic to a law library to be used as a guideline.
95. Data is unavailable for three policies: procedural assistance by clerk’s office staff members as part of their regular duties, appointment of counsel to represent a pro se litigant for the full case, and appointment of counsel to represent a pro se litigant in limited circumstances. See id. Although it would be interesting to conduct an analysis similar to that conducted in the following Section for each of these policies, there is no obvious reason that the absence of this data would undermine any of the following results beyond the fact that an analysis similar to that conducted below could conceivably come to different conclusions for those policies.
4. Objections: During the examination of a witness, one side may “object” to the questioning or testimony of a witness or presentation of evidence if the attorney feels the testimony or evidence about to be given should be excluded. If the objection is sustained by the judge, that particular testimony or evidence is excluded. If the objection is overruled by the judge, the testimony or evidence may be given. A ruling on an objection may be the basis for appeal; however, in order to preserve the right to appeal, a party must ask the court recorder that that portion of the trial--the question/evidence, the objection, and the ruling-- be transcribed in order to preserve the record for later appeal.
This is similar to the previous point. In a post, What Kind Of Pro Se Litigant Are You?, I discussed five types of pro se litigants. The least effective is one lacking in confidence. Many pro se litigants lose early by simply not showing up for court. Many more lose at the first hearing. With a lawyer on the opposite side and a robed judge on the bench, the average person is bound to feel as if they can’t succeed. Don’t let that feeling rule your actions. Lacking confidence, you might be tempted to ask advice of your opponent’s lawyer. He’s not your friend. Where a judge is concerned, ask for clarification about a ruling, not for advice about your case. In the face of uncertainty and fear, don’t give up. Keep going and learn. Simply getting to the next step, the next hearing, or the next motion is a victory. The longer you stay in, the more confident you’ll be.
11. See Donna Stienstra, Jared Bataillon, and Jason A. Cantone, Assistance to Pro Se Litigants in U.S. District Courts: A Report on Surveys of Clerks of Court and Chief Judges *3 (Federal Judicial Center, 2011), archived at http://perma.cc/8TYT-7Y43 (reporting that 90 percent of the US district courts surveyed have adopted at least one procedural reform).
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.

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?
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,
There are several important limitations to using this data. First, the exact date of the survey is unclear and, relatedly, the exact dates that each district court responded that it was employing or not employing these procedures is uncertain. The analysis is conducted using cases filed between 2008 and 2010. Accordingly, if a large number of district courts altered their policies shortly before this survey was conducted or if the survey was conducted substantially before the survey was published, it’s possible that this analysis would undercount the effects of those policies. In either of those scenarios, the full consequences of these reforms might not be seen in the 2008–2010 data sample. However, there is no information suggesting that either possibility is reflected in reality. Courts and commentators have been discussing and attempting to solve the challenges of pro se litigation for decades and implementing reforms for at least a decade; it seems unlikely that they all started implementing these solutions immediately prior to the survey.96
  There is a kind of greatness which does not depend upon fortune; it is a certain manner that distinguishes us, and which seems to destine us for great things; it is the value we insensibly set upon ourselves; it is by this quality that we gain the deference of other men, and it is this which commonly raises us more above them, than birth, rank, or even merit itself.
Your state’s “Rules of Court.” These are rules that set the procedures and deadlines that the courts in a state must follow. Generally, states have separate sets of rules for different kinds of courts. For example, a state may have one set of rules for its municipal courts (courts that try cases involving limited amounts of money), another for its superior courts (courts that try cases involving higher amounts of money), and still others for its appellate courts (courts that review the decisions of municipal and superior courts). All the rules may, however, be published in a single book. Some states also have separate sets of rules for specialized courts, such as family law courts, which hear cases involving divorce, child custody, and child support; or probate courts, which hear cases involving wills and trusts.
Now in its second year, the SDNY Legal Clinic for Pro Se Litigants has successfully assisted hundreds of litigants in a range of cases including employment discrimination, civil rights, intellectual property and more. In many instances, cases that do not belong in the SDNY are diverted to another more appropriate venue, such as Family Court or Housing Court – saving litigants time and anxiety and sparing the court’s limited resources.

Clerk’s staff and judges in Brooklyn now refer pro se litigants to a new on-site center called the Pro Se Legal Assistance Project. There, a small legal staff from the New York City Bar Justice Center helps clients more effectively pursue their cases. The center assists with strategizing, document drafting and procedural guidance, but does not directly represent litigants in court.


- The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit hears appeals from final decisions of federal district courts for civil actions arising under any Act of Congress relating to patents, plant variety protection, copyrights and trademarks, including claims of unfair competition when joined with substantial and related claims dealing with patents, copyrights, etc. as well as the final decisions of the district courts and the United States Claims Court where the United States is sued as defendant, and appeals from decisions of the United States Court of International Trade, and United States Patent and Trademark Office, the United States International Trade Commission relating to unfair import practices, and decisions by the Secretary of Commerce relating to import tariffs, among others.
Basically, what I'm saying is, the assumption in your second paragraph--that civil rights law is something you can teach yourself by reading other people's pleadings and filings--is false. There are people who study the law for three years, and still aren't considered competent enough to be licensed. You are not going to pick it up in a week or two.
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In New Haven, for instance, Family Court litigants must talk to a family services counselor before their case. Eight courthouses have court service centers, which offer guidebooks on the court system and are staffed with court personnel. Ten have public information desks. Much of the information necessary to complete a divorce is also available online.

Attorneys often find themselves with emotionally charged adversaries who have little or no understanding of time lines, due dates, discovery requests, or rules of evidence and civil procedure. Attorneys opposing pro se plaintiffs have a particularly difficult job zealously representing their own clients. They are automatically dubbed the “Goliath” by the court and juries, and find themselves pitted against the seemingly defenseless “David” pro se plaintiff.

If you wish to start a civil action in federal court, but do not have an attorney to represent you, you may file your case yourself. This is called "proceeding pro se" which is a Latin term meaning “for yourself.” You will then be called a "pro se litigant." You need not worry if you have had little or no experience with the courts before. You are, however, expected to follow/abide by the rules that govern the practice of law in the Federal Court. Pro Se litigants should be familiar with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Local Rules of this court. Please visit the Rules section of this web site to review the rules in detail.


81. Some reasons that these reforms may impact prisoners differently from nonprisoners include: differences in the types of cases brought, potentially different access to legal resources (depending on the availability of legal materials in prison), different judicial attitudes toward prisoner and nonprisoner pro se litigants, or different levels of access to counsel. Note that this Comment does not definitively suggest these reforms impact nonprisoner and prisoner pro se litigants differently. Instead, it merely suggests there may be differences and limits the scope of this analysis to nonprisoner pro se litigants.
Paul Bergman is a Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law and a recipient of two University Distinguished Teaching Awards. His books include Nolo’s Deposition Handbook (with Moore, Nolo); Reel Justice: The Courtroom Goes to the Movies (Andrews & McMeel); Trial Advocacy: Inferences, Arguments, Techniques (with Moore and Binder, West Publishing Co.); Trial Advocacy in a Nutshell (West Publishing Co.); Represent Yourself in Court: How to Prepare & Try a Winning Case (with Berman, Nolo); Depositions in a Nutshell (with Moore, Binder, and Light, West Publishing); Lawyers as Counselors: A Client-Centered Approach (with Binder, Tremblay, and Weinstein, West Publishing); and Cracking the Case Method (Vandeplas Publishing). He has also published numerous articles in law journals.
Beyond the difficulties specific to civil Gideon, there is also empirical uncertainty regarding the value of access to counsel. Dozens of experimental studies have attempted to shed light on the effectiveness of attorneys in various settings in aiding litigants who would otherwise be proceeding pro se.52 One 2010 meta-study conducted on a selection of prior studies suggested that representation by counsel improved a party’s odds of winning a suit by a factor between 1.19 and 13.79.53 While those numbers suggest that access to counsel probably increases a litigant’s odds of winning a case by at least some margin, the size of the range limits the value of these studies to policymakers.54 There is also debate concerning the quality of most of these studies. A 2012 article by Professor D. James Greiner and Cassandra Wolos Pattanayak looked at dozens of previous studies to quantify the added value of access to counsel and found almost all of those studies were unable to accurately measure the effect of access to counsel.55
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,

48. Andrew Scherer, Why People Who Face Losing Their Homes in Legal Proceedings Must Have a Right to Counsel, 3 Cardozo Pub L Pol & Ethics J 699, 701–03 (2006). See also, for example, Ramji-Nogales, Schoenholtz, and Schrag, 60 Stan L Rev at 384 (cited in note 47). The arguments in these articles focus on civil litigation regarding housing or immigration, but the arguments hold more generally when a party’s ability to vindicate important interests is at stake.

Another common reason a defendant might choose pro se representation is the cost involved in hiring an attorney. If the defendant does not like the attorney that the court provides, it might cost them a significant amount of money to hire a private defense lawyer. Saving money is perhaps one of the greatest advantages of pro se representation. However, often times the defendant might be saving money at the risk of losing their case because they are unequipped to argue on their own.


IAALS recently released two new reports focused on the experiences of self-represented litigants in the family court system.  Cases Without Counsel: Research on Experiences of Self-Representation in U.S. Family Court which explores the issues from the litigants' perspective.  Cases Without Counsel: Our Recommendations after Listening to the Litigants outlines recommendations for courts, legal service providers, and communities to best serve self-represented litigants in family cases.
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
Some federal courts of appeals allow unrepresented litigants to argue orally (even so nonargument disposition is still possible), and in all courts the percentage of cases in which argument occurs is higher for counseled cases.[24] In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court adopted a rule that all persons arguing orally must be attorneys, although the Supreme Court claims it was simply codifying a "long-standing practice of the court."[25] The last non-attorney to argue orally before the Supreme Court was Sam Sloan in 1978.[25][26]
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