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
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).
Eighty percent of state criminal defendants cannot afford to pay for a lawyer, and only those who are actually incarcerated are constitutionally entitled to appointed counsel. Many people facing misdemeanor charges can, if convicted, be subjected to significant fines and fees, or face the loss of benefits (including housing) or deportation. Yet, they have no right to an attorney, and those who cannot afford a lawyer will go without one.
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.
This Part focuses on an extensive set of pro se reforms made in the federal district court in EDNY. Because these reforms were publicly announced around the time of their implementation, this Part conducts a difference-in-differences analysis of these reforms to complement the differences analysis from Part III.116 This analysis strengthens the results in Part III, suggesting that pro se reforms have not impacted case outcomes for pro se litigants.
Taking part in a recent ribbon cutting in Brooklyn are, from left, Lynn Kelly, executive director of the City Bar Justice Center; Debra L. Raskin, New York City Bar Association president; Chief Judge Carol B. Amon, Eastern District of New York; Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom; and Nancy Rosenbloom, director of the Federal Pro Se Legal Assistance Project.
From an initial look at Figure 1, no meaningful change in the outcomes of pro se litigation in EDNY appears in the years following the creation of the pro se magistrate’s office. Instead, for all district courts in the New York area, there is seemingly considerable variance in case outcomes on a yearly basis, with pro se litigants performing very similarly on average in both sets of districts before and after the pro se reform. However, Figure 1 does reflect the possibility that the percent of cases won by pro se plaintiffs in the other New York district courts trended downward more than in EDNY. But this is uncertain. With the exception of 1999, the win rates of pro se litigants are relatively similar in EDNY to New York’s other district courts.
D. Before trial, the parties may be given an opportunity to meet with a mediator appointed by the Judge to resolve their case. Mediators are volunteers; they try to help parties reach a friendly agreement. They are not judges and do not make decisions. If the dispute is not resolved in mediation, the parties will proceed to a trial, usually on the same day.
Chicago: Justice for the “Little Guy”?, 72 Nw U L Rev 947 (1978) (discussing deficiencies of pro se small claims courts). See also Margaret Martin Barry, Accessing Justice: Are Pro Se Clinics a Reasonable Response to the Lack of Pro Bono Legal Services and Should Law School Clinics Conduct Them?, 67 Fordham L Rev 1879, 1926 (1999) (describing the pro se system as one that “sacrifices justice for expediency”).
4. If you or your group made any effort to inform business owners in your area about the ADA, you might want to make a Paragraph 18 that will read like this: "On April 22, 1993, the Louisville CIL conducted a free seminar on the ADA, and sent out fliers to all downtown businesses, to educate them about the ADA. The business in question still refused to become accessible. If this is not relevant, just ignore it, and number paragraphs accordingly.
The American Bar Association (ABA) has also been involved with issues related to self-representation. In 2008, the Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access was presented to the Chicago-Kent College of Law Center for Access to Justice & Technology for making justice more accessible to the public through the use of the Internet in teaching, legal practice and public access to the law. Their A2J Author Project is a software tool that empowers those from the courts, legal services programs and educational institutions to create guided interviews resulting in document assembly, electronic filing and data collection. Viewers using A2J to go through a guided interview are led down a virtual pathway to the courthouse. As they answer simple questions about their legal issue, the technology then "translates" the answers to create, or assemble, the documents that are needed for filing with the court.
Administrative hearings rather than trials typically result when individuals contest decisions made by government agencies, or when government agencies refuse to act favorably on individuals’ requests. Thanks in part to movies and TV, a popular notion is that in the U.S., trials are the most common method of resolving civil disputes. In fact, across the country many more administrative hearings than trials occur.
1. If you don't know where your federal court is, look under "U.S. Government Offices ‹ U.S. Courts" in the blue or green pages of your phone book. When you find out which district court is yours, add it at the top of your pro se where it reads, "in the United States District Court for the [ ] district of [your state]." Don't worry yet about the Civil Action No. The clerk will give that to you at your district court office.
One of the most important aspects of pro se litigation in federal district courts is that pro se litigants fare extremely poorly. This is generally understood in the literature.82 However, the magnitude of the disparity between pro se and represented litigants is not always highlighted. Accordingly, this Section presents statistics on typical outcomes for represented and pro se litigants in trial. Tables 2.2 and 2.3 show the win rates of plaintiffs and defendants in cases that reach a final judgment based on whether both parties are represented, the plaintiff is proceeding pro se, or the defendant is proceeding pro se.
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.
Limit the scope of trial. Pursuant to federal and state rules of evidence and procedure, courts are responsible for establishing ground rules to efficiently manage and regulate trial practice and trial testimony. This is especially important when trial involves a pro se party because the lack of substantive and procedural knowledge can create an ever-changing, and often ever-expanding, litigation framework. Accordingly, trial counsel should make use of pretrial briefing mechanisms—including motions in limine and bench memoranda—to limit the issues for trial. Pretrial briefing affords the pro se litigant the opportunity to have his or her voice heard on the issues while efficiently framing the matters for trial. If the rules of court do not impose page limits on the particular mode of briefing being used, trial counsel should ask the court to set a page limit to help focus the discussion. In addition, trial counsel should consider asking the court to allow the parties to submit in advance their questions for direct examination to both limit improper objections and further focus the testimony on relevant, admissible evidence.
One part of that questionnaire focused on the procedural steps that clerks’ offices took to assist pro se litigants, either through programs and procedures or efforts to improve access to counsel. The survey asked about eighteen different services, programs, or procedures that at least some district courts have implemented to assist nonprisoner pro se litigants.94 The appendix to that survey describes which of the responding district courts had implemented those policies as of the survey date for fifteen of those eighteen policies.95
109. It is worth noting that these reforms could produce unobservable benefits in a number of ways. For example, as discussed previously, some district courts may be implementing these reforms differently in practice, and it may be the case that a few are successfully implementing the reforms, resulting in significant improvements to case outcomes for those courts but not enough improvement to show up in the overall numbers. Alternately, it may be the case that one particular combination of reforms is especially impactful. There is not enough data to fruitfully study all permutations of reforms. Still, this analysis is revealing with respect to the cumulative effects of these reforms.
Supreme Court held for the first time that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to respect the right to counsel in at least some criminal trials.21 Under Powell, the right to adequate counsel was guaranteed only for capital cases. The Court explicitly declined to reach the question of whether states needed to provide a similar guarantee of access to counsel in noncapital cases.22
63. As an example, pro se reforms could be counterproductive in a streamlined pro se office at a district court that consistently suggests dismissing pro se cases before a full hearing. For a more detailed discussion of entities that have called for civil Gideon rather than pro se trial court reform, and the contexts in which they have done so, see Greiner, Pattanayak, and Hennessy, 126 Harv L Rev at 906–07 (cited in note 47).
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.
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
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 court said, in reversing the lower court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s pro se discrimination claim, that the exception to the requirement of making the plaintiff state all discrimination claims at the EEOC level, i.e., allowing reasonably related unstated claims to be brought in the federal court, “is essentially an allowance of loose pleading and is based on the recognition that EEOC charges frequently are filled out by employees without the benefit of counsel and that their primary purpose is to alert the EEOC to the discrimination that a plaintiff claims [he or she] is suffering.” Id. at 201.
We strongly recommend that you prepare a trial notebook. A trial notebook is a series of outlines covering matters such as what you must prove (or, if you are a defendant, disprove); the evidence you will use to prove (or disprove) those matters; the topics you intend to cover on direct and cross-examination; a list of the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of your witnesses; and the exhibits you plan to introduce into evidence. The notebook serves as your courtroom manager. You can refer to it to make sure that you do not overlook evidence you planned to offer or an argument you intended to make.
Over the next thirty years, the Supreme Court slowly expanded the right to counsel for criminal defendants. Shortly after Powell, in Johnson v Zerbst,23 the Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment protects the right to counsel for all criminal defendants in federal courts.24 Additionally, the Court held that, when the accused “is not represented by counsel and has not competently and intelligently waived his constitutional right” to counsel, any criminal conviction will be ruled unconstitutional as a Sixth Amendment violation.25 The Supreme Court initially declined to extend Zerbst to all criminal cases in state courts, instead reaffirming, as it held in Powell, that the right to counsel was guaranteed only in capital cases in state courts. In Betts v Brady,26 the Court declined to overturn a robbery conviction even though the trial court had refused the defendant’s request for the assistance of counsel, holding that states were not constitutionally mandated to provide adequate counsel for state trials in noncapital cases.27
Laws and organizations charged with regulating judicial conduct may also affect pro se litigants. For example, The State of California Judicial Council has addressed through published materials the need of the Judiciary to act in the interests of fairness to self-represented litigants. The California rules express a preference for resolution of every case on the merits, even if resolution requires excusing inadvertence by a pro se litigant that would otherwise result in a dismissal. The Judicial Council justifies this position based on the idea that "Judges are charged with ascertaining the truth, not just playing referee ... A lawsuit is not a game, where the party with the cleverest lawyer prevails regardless of the merits." It suggests "the court should take whatever measures may be reasonable and necessary to insure a fair trial" and says "There is only one reported case in the U.S. finding a judge's specific accommodations have gone too far." The committee notes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure rule 56 on summary judgments notes that "Many courts take extra care with pro se litigants, advising them of the need to respond and the risk of losing by summary judgment if an adequate response is not filed. And the court may seek to reassure itself by some examination of the record before granting summary judgment against a pro se litigant."