There’s no way to avoid it: If you represent yourself in court, you’re going to run into a lot of unfamiliar legal terminology. This book tries to translate the most common jargon into plain ­English. For quick refer­ence, check the glossary at the back of the book. You can find more plain-language definitions in Nolo’s online legal dictionary, available for free at www.nolo.com.

Even though it's great to share our goals and aspirations with others--whether they are personal or career-oriented--opening ourselves up to that sense of vulnerability to others subconsciously creates anxiety. Although we may not even realize it, sharing the things you would most like to achieve involuntarily sets expectations for ourselves in the eyes of others--expectations that can often sap your confidence if unmet.

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.
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.
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.
Most slander cases settle. This typically occurs before trial, by way of negotiations between you (or your attorney, if you are represented) and the defendant (or his or her attorney, if represented by one). Additionally, a case may settle through some form of alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation or arbitration. Occasionally, although rarely, the case may settle even before the complaint is filed because of a persuasively written demand letter.

In order to evaluate the impact of EDNY’s pro se reforms, this Comment runs a logistic regression using whether the plaintiff won the case as the independent variable. The dataset for this regression is all cases decided in the four New York district courts between 1998 and 2007 that involved pro se plaintiffs and represented defendants. This dataset includes 578 cases from the Northern District of New York (NDNY), 2,658 cases from EDNY, 3,843 cases from SDNY, and 668 cases from the Western District of New York (WDNY). The key variable of interest is a binary variable that is coded “1” if the case is in EDNY and filed after the implementation of the pro se reforms and “0” otherwise.125 There were 1,408 cases in this dataset from after EDNY implemented the reforms.
There are five very important elements that must exist before you can file a case in federal court. The following is a summary of the things you should consider before filing a case in federal court. This summary is not to be considered the final word. Before continuing, you must understand that even if you have met all five elements, there is always a possibility that you may not win.
123. Note that this does not necessarily imply the pro se reforms in EDNY are failing to improve the litigation process for pro se litigants. See notes 97–100 and accompanying text. It is conceivable that, for example, the reforms in EDNY have led to higher average settlement values for pro se plaintiffs and thus improved overall outcomes for pro se litigants. Moreover, there could be important benefits to a litigation process in which pro se litigants feel more fully heard and in which the process is more dignified for pro se litigants. This office could be creating large benefits for pro se litigants in EDNY overall. However, this analysis is restricted to case outcomes. Further, the pro se reforms in EDNY may be making a positive impact in terms of the efficiency side of the equation, helping to dispose of pro se cases more quickly and efficiently than would otherwise be the case and reducing the overall burden of pro se cases on the court despite not improving case outcomes for pro se litigants.

Comment is five to ten years old. Courts may have developed more promising innovations in the meantime, but this type of analysis would not be able to detect those benefits until most or all of the litigation begun in those years has run its course. Additionally, it’s possible that some of these reforms are significantly impacting case outcomes for prisoner pro se litigants, which may separately be an important goal of these reforms.
Individual lawyers almost always find it difficult to actually see the bias against the self-represented that pervades our courts, just as a few years ago, judges who complimented woman lawyers on their looks were shocked when they were labeled as sexist. Few lawyers are able or willing to come to terms with the fact that a significant portion of their livelihood is based squarely on barriers to self-representation that the courts erect and enforce.
Commentators writing about pro se litigation over the past twenty years have typically described pro se litigation as a large and growing portion of the federal docket.79 However, when the scope of the inquiry is limited to nonprisoner pro se litigation, this trend does not show up in the AO data. There has been a meaningful upward trend in the total number of pro se cases. But the percent of cases brought by pro se plaintiffs has not changed significantly, as seen in Table 2A, suggesting pro se litigation comprises a relatively stable portion of the federal docket.
Along with subpoena power, you have the power given by the rules of discovery, to conduct discovery, send interrogatories (written questions to the opponent and non-parties), requests for admission (requests that opponents and non-parties admit or deny statements of fact), requests for production (of tangible documents and things) and to take depositions (recorded testimony). Those tools (powers) are available to you just as if you were a lawyer.
This approach serves two purposes. First, defense counsel will gain favor with the court. Defense counsel will not appear to be “tripping up” an unsuspecting pro se plaintiff. Second, the pro se plaintiff will have a more difficult time convincing a court that they were unaware of certain pleading requirements, because the defense counsel will have already provided them with a copy of the necessary rules.
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]
Sara J. Berman is the Director of Academic and Bar Success Programs at the nonprofit AccessLex Institute Center for Legal Education Excellence, an organization committed to understanding the barriers that impede access to law school for historically underrepresented groups and improving access to law school for all; identifying actionable strategies and public policies to increase law school affordability; and strengthening the value of legal education. Berman is the author of several bar exam and legal education books and articles, including Pass the Bar Exam: A Practical Guide to Achieving Academic & Professional Goals and Bar Exam MPT Preparation & Experiential Learning for Law Students: Interactive Performance Test Training. Before joining AccessLex, Berman worked for more than two decades in various law schools.  She has more than 15 years of experience in distance learning in legal education, and co-authored Represent Yourself in Court: How to Prepare and Try a Winning Case and The Criminal Law Handbook: Know Your Rights, Survive the System, plain English primers on the civil and criminal justice systems. More on Berman’s publications at https://ssrn.com/author=2846291 and on AccessLex publications at https://www.ssrn.com/link/AccessLex-Institute-RES.html
THE mother from North Haven sat in the back of Judge Patricia L. Harleston's wood-paneled courtroom at the New Haven County Courthouse and cried quietly. She was unemployed, she owed more than $2,000 in child support and she had no idea how she was going to defend herself. She said she couldn't afford a lawyer, so she was representing herself at the child support hearing. Meanwhile, the lawyer for the father of her children sat across the room.
The AO dataset was created for administrative purposes rather than research, and the reliability of some of the fields kept in the dataset can be uncertain, as shown in a 2003 study of the AO dataset.141 However, this 2003 empirical analysis of the AO dataset suggests that win rates, the key outcome variable used in this analysis, can be deduced reliably from the AO dataset.142 That 2003 study concludes that when “judgment is entered for plaintiff or defendant (at least in cases coded with nonzero-awards) the reported victor is overwhelmingly accurate” and thus that analysis based on win rates in the AO dataset is appropriate.143
Ms. Eldrich and others she knew through the New Haven women's movement vowed to change that. They published a book that taught people how to do their own divorces if the cases were simple, believing that it would empower people to get involved directly in the court system. And because women were often the ones to initiate the divorce, they considered the book a way to empower women particularly, said Diane Polan, one of the authors.
Now, even those who initially tried to get more people to represent themselves said there are problems, fueled at least partially by lawyer's fees that few of the poor can afford. It's not uncommon for a lawyer to ask for a $5,000 retainer to take a divorce case. Fees vary in different parts of the state -- anecdotes from lawyers and judges indicated that Fairfield County lawyers charge the highest prices -- but it is difficult to find anyone who charges less than $200 an hour and not uncommon for lawyers to charge $500 an hour, lawyers and judges said.
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.
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In some types of cases, not having counsel can make a dramatic difference. Take the example of low-income tenants facing eviction. Across the county, roughly 90 percent of landlords are represented by counsel, while 90 percent of tenants are not. Simply having a lawyer increases the odds of being able to stay in one’s home. When tenants represent themselves in New York City, they are evicted in nearly 50 percent of cases. With a lawyer, they win 90 percent of the time.
Any reform must simultaneously balance a number of key policy goals: it should ensure the ability of pro se litigants to receive fair trials without unfairly disadvantaging their adversaries, allocate sufficient resources to ensure quick and fair hearings while avoiding overdrawing on judicial and legal resources that might instead be put to more urgent needs,7 and be practicable within the Supreme Court’s current jurisprudence and the statutory authority granted to courts by Congress.

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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.
Court clerks withhold information from non-lawyers that they routinely give to lawyers. If a lawyer's office calls to ask about a particular scheduling procedure, for example, the clerk provides all sorts of answers without thinking twice. But let a self-represented person ask for the same (or even much less) information, and it suddenly becomes legal advice. Many clerks' offices feel compelled to post signs saying, "We don't provide legal advice!" Most often, that means that they are unwilling to help unrepresented people get into court or respond to a lawsuit. (Imagine if IRS clerks refused to answer questions about how to file a tax return.)

We have written another book that can help if you or someone you know has been arrested or accused of a crime and is facing possible criminal charges. It’s called The Criminal Law Handbook: Know Your Rights, Survive the System (Nolo). While that handbook does not recommend self-representation in criminal cases, it can be a tremendous resource at a time you need solid, trustworthy information.

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]
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