During my 17 years with Nolo Press, the nation's leading publisher of self-help law books, I have spoken with countless competent people, including many who excelled in demanding occupations--physicians, architects, teachers, dentists, inventors, physicists--who, when using Nolo books to handle their own cases, were treated like stupid children by clerks and judges. To a person, they thought they finally understood what it must often be like to be an African-American in our society. That their perception of bias was objectively accurate cannot be doubted in the face of that most deeply insulting bromide, so popular with lawyers: "He who represents himself has a fool for a client."
While some (or several) attorneys are honest, there's a simple reason why no lawyer will defend your position as sternly you would: An attorney won't risk his/her cushy or soft-spoken relation with the judges in that court, lest the attorney finds himself (herself) forced to move his practice to another county/district/jurisdiction. In that sense, your cause is compromised by the lawyer without you knowing it.
An individual’s right to represent himself or herself in federal court is expressly codified in 28 U.S.C. § 1654 (2018), which provides: “In all courts of the United States the parties may plead and conduct their own cases . . . therein.” Similarly, many states have codified the rights of pro se litigants in their respective constitutions and statutes. Drew A. Swank, “The Pro Se Phenomenon,” 19 BYU J. Pub. L. 373, 375 (2005). Indeed, according to the Supreme Court, there is “no evidence that the . . . Framers ever doubted the right of self-representation, or imagined that this right might be considered inferior to the right of assistance of counsel.” Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 832 (1975).
To continue the first tip, one of the best things you can do is exude confidence in your physical mannerisms. This means standing up straight, having good posture, speaking with a confident voice, and making eye contact. There may be days when doing these things is difficult. There may even be days when you feel as if you are being phony by putting on this external face when you don’t feel that way internally.
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.
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.
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).
Yes, some judges may allow or require a pro se defendant to work with a “standby attorney”. This means that the defendant is free to represent themselves, but a lawyer is available for assistance when necessary. A standby attorney may be present at hearings and at trial to assist with procedural rules and/or argumentation. This type of hybrid representation setup has recently become a popular compromise between traditional representation and pro se representation.
Don't let the Pro Se form scare you. It's easy! All you have to do is just put it in the computer and fill in the bold parts that are in parentheses. If you do not have a computer, then use the "blank" pro se. We have an example copy included for your convenience. Keep the example copy with you at your side as a guideline. Once you have the disk copy in your computer and the example copy in front of you, just follow these suggestions and you're on your way:
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.
There is good reason to believe, however, that there are not major omitted variable issues in this data. There are three potential omitted variables that are important to address here, but none seems likely to be a confounding factor in this analysis.103 One key possibility is that district courts that have implemented more pro se reforms may differ from other district courts in that they have dockets with more (or fewer) pro se litigants. However, previous analysis suggests that is not the case.104 Another potentially important consideration is whether pro se reform is concentrated in a few district courts. But approximately 90 percent of district courts have implemented at least some services for nonprisoner pro se litigants, so this does not appear to be the case either.105 Finally, it could be the case that district courts typically implement either none or many of these reforms. However, similar numbers of district courts have implemented one, two, three, and four programs and procedures to assist pro se litigants;106 accordingly, there is no apparent all-or-nothing problem either.107 While this Comment does not claim that these are all of the potentially important omitted variables,108 it does seem that district court reform is a widespread practice used in different ways throughout those courts, suggesting that it is ripe for the type of analysis conducted here.109
- 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.
Fixed Fees. A fixed fee is a set fee for a particular project. For example, a lawyer may charge $500 to write your will. It is unlikely that an attorney will suggest a fixed fee to coach you through your whole case, because the lawyer will have little idea of the amount of work involved. But the lawyer may suggest fixed fees for particular services along the way. For example, you may find a lawyer willing to charge you no more than a specific sum of money to review and edit your complaint or to help you respond to your opponent’s interrogatories.
Aside from her family appellate matters, Christa has also been successful in small claims. In 2017 Christa brought a pro se complaint against an auto body repair shop after it made faulty repairs to her vehicle. The shop hired an aggressive attorney, but Christa successfully pushed the case to a settlement for the full amount of her claim. Although Christa cannot and will not offer legal advice, she genuinely engages with her clients, is always happy to lend a listening ear and to share her own pro se experiences. Christa encourages her customers to educate themselves of the system and the laws which she believes results in an empowered and confident pro se litigant.
A resource of moderate value are the online law forums. There are well-meaning participants who clarified legal concepts for me. However, I say those forums are of moderate value because: - some individuals embrace a role of sarcastic jurors (example: when somebody asks "can I sue for XYZ?", those guys like to answer "sure, you can sue, but you would lose", and it just gets worse); - many replies don't go beyond "ask an attorney"; and - those forums are usually managed by attorney$, 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.
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
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.