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.
I would never say never and anything is possible in court. But I would say that it really hurts your chances a LOT. There are so many things that could go wrong or you might have an opportunity to win, but not recognize it because you do not know what to look for. If it is worth it to fight this, it is probably worth hiring an attorney. I am sorry to be the bearer of discouraging news. But litigation is always complicated and yours sounds more complex than normal.

Whatever your case is about, I can't emphasize enough for you to take a morning off from work to go watch some cases in court. You'll eliminate some fear of the unknown, you'll start to see that attorneys go through a similar set of procedures that you are just as capable of performing yourself, and you'll get a feel for how to talk to the judge and those who might be in the same room as you.

This book explains rules and techniques for preparing and trying a civil case, including how to handle a case in family court or bank­ruptcy court. It does not cover criminal cases. See “Civil and Criminal Cases,” below. You will learn how to figure out what evidence you need to present a legally solid case, whether you are a plaintiff or a defendant. Among other things, you will learn:
When cases go to trial before a judge, there is no reason to insist on formal procedures or evidence rules. The judge should facilitate each side's presentation as is done in small claims court, rather than sit back and make the parties present their cases under arcane rules that take years to master. This approach would not violate due process, because judges would base their decisions on competent and relevant evidence.
Does Courtroom5 apply to Ilinois ? I’m trying to accept the Judges recommendation fir division of property in a divorce case and avoid trial but my lawyer is trying to go to trial to Tim up the fees … I know I can dismiss lawyer but how do I tell the judge that I want to accept her recommendation for division of property ? Do I 1st file pro se and attach a motion to it simply telling the judge this ? My lawyer is telling me that the judge may not let me out of the case, etc. to discourage me. I need this case to close. No children are involved and this case resulted from a Bifurcated Divorce. I need to get some advice as soon as possible and feel confident about filing the documents. Trial is set for June 2019.
Table 3A suggests that the various policies used to assist pro se litigants in federal district courts have not substantially affected win rates for pro se plaintiffs. When both parties are represented, plaintiff win rates gravitate around 50 percent. When only the plaintiff is pro se, the plaintiff win rate hovers between 2 and 5 percent. All of the policies registered in the FJC Survey classified as “programs and procedures to assist pro se litigants”—the types of policies discussed throughout this
77. For more discussion of the nature of these fields and other data contained in the AO dataset, see generally Integrated Data Base Civil Documentation (Federal Judicial Center, 2017), archived at http://perma.cc/LT4F-2W5E. Additionally, several other fields are used in the data processing that is conducted before the analysis, such as using the docket number assigned by the district court to avoid double-counting cases. For more discussion of the data cleaning process, including the data used in that process, see
But this passage reminds us of the continuing tradition of morning dress for the Solicitor General’s office before the Supreme Court. If it already looked stupid in 1948, it definitely looks stupid now. Adhering to tradition for the mere sake of tradition is small-minded. After Elena Kagan dumped the practice — since wearing what is essentially a tuxedo is less than flattering for a woman — there was some reason to believe it would join powdered wigs in the dustbin of American legal history. No such luck.
Whatever your case is about, I can't emphasize enough for you to take a morning off from work to go watch some cases in court. You'll eliminate some fear of the unknown, you'll start to see that attorneys go through a similar set of procedures that you are just as capable of performing yourself, and you'll get a feel for how to talk to the judge and those who might be in the same room as you.
Pro Se is a newsletter published bi-monthly by Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York for incarcerated individuals in New York State prisons. Pro Se provides information and analysis on recent developments in the law. Pro Se advises people in prison of changes in the law, provides practice pieces to assist them in complying with statutory and regulatory requirements, and explains technical aspects of various laws affecting prisoners. Pro Se is sent free of charge to individuals incarcerated in New York State who request to be placed on our mailing list.
As seen in Table 2A, civil nonprisoner pro se litigation appears to comprise a stable proportion of federal district courts’ dockets.78 Averaged over several four-year time periods, the percentage of cases in federal district courts that were filed by pro se plaintiffs has ranged only from 9 to 10 percent. However, that still constitutes an average of more than fifteen thousand federal district court cases each year involving nonprisoner pro se plaintiffs. Similarly, the percentage of cases that have been answered by pro se defendants has hovered around 2 percent.
In May 2001, EDNY began one of the country’s more dramatic pro se reform programs, elevating a magistrate judge to a newly created pro se office focused entirely on overseeing pro se litigation and assigning her broad responsibilities for overseeing pro se litigation.117 These reforms were implemented with the intent to help “facilitate access to the courts” for pro se litigants.118
Table 3C tells a similar story as Tables 3A and 3B. Although there is some variation in the win rates, there is no discernable pattern. Pro se litigants do not consistently have better case outcomes in districts that have implemented more policies aimed at improving the lot of pro se litigants. Instead, the win rates of pro se litigants deviate only a couple of percentage points from the overall average win rates for pro se litigants even in districts that have implemented three, four, or more of the policies considered in this Comment.
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.
A pro se litigant is an individual who is representing himself in a civil court action. While the law allows nearly anyone to be a pro se litigant, and to appear in court on their own behalf, there are some limitations. For example, a pro se litigant, or self-represented litigant, cannot represent others. This places certain limitations on pro se representation, such as:
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.
Your Day in Court. This is a video clip from King County, Washington featuring Judge Mary Yu and Stephen Gonzalez.  Judge Yu explains the basic layout of the courthouse and Judge Gonzalez talks about courtroom procedure.  The information in this video is designed for pro se users of the King County court system but it is general enough that court users in any state can benefit from viewing it.
In 1963, the Supreme Court broke from precedent and found the right to counsel to be a “fundamental safeguard[ ] of liberty” guaranteed to all criminal defendants by the Constitution.28 In the landmark case Gideon v Wainwright,29 Clarence Earl Gideon was charged in Florida state court with breaking and entering with intent to commit petty larceny.30 Gideon appeared alone in court and requested a court-appointed attorney to assist his case. The Florida court declined, as Florida did not provide counsel for criminal defendants in noncapital cases.31 After granting certiorari,32 the Supreme Court held that the Due Process Clause requires states to provide counsel in noncapital criminal cases, overturning Betts. The Court focused on the “fundamental” nature of the right, comparing it favorably to rights like freedom of speech and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, and the Court held that the Due Process Clause prohibited states from violating the right.33 This holding, along with its extension to misdemeanors in Argersinger v Hamlin,34 established the modern right to counsel in all criminal cases.35

A resource of moderate value are the online law forums. There are well-meaning participants who clarified legal concepts for me. However, I say those forums are of moderate value because: - some individuals embrace a role of sarcastic jurors (example: when somebody asks "can I sue for XYZ?", those guys like to answer "sure, you can sue, but you would lose", and it just gets worse); - many replies don't go beyond "ask an attorney"; and - those forums are usually managed by attorney$, so they di$like when a non-attorney provides effective advice that disproves the "need" for lawyers; that's actually what got me banned from two such forums.
80. There are many factors affecting trends in prisoner pro se litigation that likely do not impact nonprisoner pro se litigation, such as the growth of the US prison population and concerns about the particular conditions and resources available to prisoners. For one discussion of prisoner pro se litigation, see generally Michael W. Martin, Foreword: Root Causes of the Pro Se Prisoner Litigation Crisis, 80 Fordham L Rev 1219 (2011).
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.
Abuse (Child, Domestic, Sexual) Agencies & Administration Automobile (DUI, Crimes, Speeding) Automobiles (Accidents, Insurance) Banking (Business, Consumer, Mortgage) Bankruptcy (Business, Consumer) Bars & Restaurants Business Formation & Dissolution Children (Adoption, Custody, Support) Class Actions (Bad Drugs, Products) Commercial Law and Contracts Commercial Real Estate Constitutional Law Construction (Disputes, Liens) Credit (Collections, Rights) Criminal Defense (General/Other) Discrimination/Harassment (Age, Sex) Divorce Eminent Domain or Condemnation Employment Contracts Entertainment & Media Environmental Law/Zoning Regulation Family Law (General/Other) Faulty/Defective Products/Services (Auto, Drug) Financing & Taxes Government (General/Other) Health Care & Insurance House or Condominium Husband & Wife Injuries (Personal, Workers Comp) Injury Accidents (Auto, Wrongful Death) Insurance (Auto, Health, Life, Property) Intentional Injuries (Assault, Bites) Investments (Annuities, Securities, IPOs) Juveniles Landlord/Tenant Malpractice (Medical, Professional) Parents (Elder Law/Care, Medicare, SSI) Patents, Copyrights, Trademarks, etc. Pay and Benefits Personal Crimes Police, Prosecutors and Government Probate & Contested Wills Property Crimes Real Estate/Property (General/Other) Social Security Taxes Transportation (Air, Rail, Sea, Truck) Unfair Competition Unions Visas, Citizenship, Deportation, etc. White Collar Crime Workers' Compensation Wrongful Termination
Some experts, like John Pollock with the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, have focused on expanding the right to counsel in civil cases implicating basic human needs. Others have advocated for expansion of the right to counsel in lower-level criminal cases where the consequences – including obstacles to housing or employment, or deportation – can still be incredibly high.
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.

You can contact a lawyer referral service to be connected with an experienced lawyer in your area. In Chicago and Cook County, you can contact the Chicago Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at (312) 554-2001 or https://lrs.chicagobar.org/. Outside of Cook County, you can contact the Illinois State Bar Association IllinoisLawyerFinder at (800) 922-8757 or https://www.isba.org/public/illinoislawyerfinder. 


Some still remain skeptical about pro se reform. Commentators have argued that unfair advantages for pro se litigants correspond to unfair disadvantages for their opponents in civil proceedings, that tweaking the court system specifically for pro se litigants undermines the rule of law, and that reforms may lead courts to devote more resources to cases that often prove frivolous.61 Other detractors of trial-court reform for pro se litigants have opposed it on opposite grounds, arguing that these reforms may be counterproductive and harm pro se litigants62 or that they don’t go far enough and that civil Gideon is needed to fully protect the rights of pro se litigants.63

Table 3C tells a similar story as Tables 3A and 3B. Although there is some variation in the win rates, there is no discernable pattern. Pro se litigants do not consistently have better case outcomes in districts that have implemented more policies aimed at improving the lot of pro se litigants. Instead, the win rates of pro se litigants deviate only a couple of percentage points from the overall average win rates for pro se litigants even in districts that have implemented three, four, or more of the policies considered in this Comment.


In 1963, the Supreme Court broke from precedent and found the right to counsel to be a “fundamental safeguard[ ] of liberty” guaranteed to all criminal defendants by the Constitution.28 In the landmark case Gideon v Wainwright,29 Clarence Earl Gideon was charged in Florida state court with breaking and entering with intent to commit petty larceny.30 Gideon appeared alone in court and requested a court-appointed attorney to assist his case. The Florida court declined, as Florida did not provide counsel for criminal defendants in noncapital cases.31 After granting certiorari,32 the Supreme Court held that the Due Process Clause requires states to provide counsel in noncapital criminal cases, overturning Betts. The Court focused on the “fundamental” nature of the right, comparing it favorably to rights like freedom of speech and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, and the Court held that the Due Process Clause prohibited states from violating the right.33 This holding, along with its extension to misdemeanors in Argersinger v Hamlin,34 established the modern right to counsel in all criminal cases.35
Table 3C tells a similar story as Tables 3A and 3B. Although there is some variation in the win rates, there is no discernable pattern. Pro se litigants do not consistently have better case outcomes in districts that have implemented more policies aimed at improving the lot of pro se litigants. Instead, the win rates of pro se litigants deviate only a couple of percentage points from the overall average win rates for pro se litigants even in districts that have implemented three, four, or more of the policies considered in this Comment.
Examples Only.  The forms do not try to address or cover all the different types of claims or defenses, or how specific facts might affect a particular claim or defense.  Some of the forms, such as the form for a generic complaint, apply to different types of cases.  Others apply only to specific types of cases.  Be careful to use the form that fits your case and the type of pleading you want to file.  Be careful to change the information the form asks for to fit the facts and circumstances of your case.
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