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.
96. For a discussion from the early 2000s, see Bloom and Hershkoff, 16 Notre Dame J L, Ethics & Pub Pol at 488–97 (cited in note 74). To the extent that this is a risk, a follow-up study could be conducted by surveying the current practices of district courts and then using a similar method to the one employed in this Comment to check whether differences in current district court practices are impacting more recent outcomes for pro se litigants.
Whether you are a party to a lawsuit, a person representing yourself in a lawsuit, or an attorney representing a party in a lawsuit, you are subject to the rules of procedure for any court in which your case is filed. The federal courts are governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Fed. R. Civ. P.) and the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (Fed. R. Cr. P.) as well as other rules of procedure regarding other areas such as evidence, appeals, etc. No matter what document or procedure you are involved with, you must follow the particular rule or rules that govern the matter.
It was very nice of Kenn to share all that esoteric knowledge regarding the litigation process. I think most lawyers would only be interested in non disclosure of their dirty tricks, so many thanks to Kenn. I have not made the decision of going pro se, but even if I don't, the book is still worth to read to attain some understanding of what is going on behind the scenes in one's lawsuit.
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Federal courts can impose liability for the prevailing party's attorney fees to the losing party if the judge considers the case frivolous or for purpose of harassment, even when the case was voluntarily dismissed. In the case of Fox v. Vice, U.S. Supreme Court held that reasonable attorneys' fees could be awarded to the defendant under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1988, but only for costs that the defendant would not have incurred "but for the frivolous claims." Unless there is an actual trial or judgment, if there is only pre-trial motion practice such as motions to dismiss, attorney fee shifting can only be awarded under FRCP Rule 11 and it requires that the opposing party file a Motion for Sanctions and that the court issue an order identifying the sanctioned conduct and the basis for the sanction. Pro se still has a right to appeal any order for sanctions in the higher court. In the state courts, however, each party is generally responsible only for its own attorney fees, with certain exceptions.
More generally, win rates are an imperfect outcome variable for evaluating the effectiveness of pro se reform, and some caution is warranted when making inferences based on this analysis. The thorniest issue is that a large portion of civil cases are disposed of in ways that do not typically result in final judgments being entered, so win rates do not directly shed light on how pro se litigants fare in those cases. Some district court reforms might plausibly result in more favorable settlements for pro se litigants, and thus improved outcomes for pro se litigants while not materially affecting the win rates of pro se litigants upon final judgment.97 That said, there is a good theoretical reason to believe that win rates upon final judgment correlate with the favorability of settlements: in typical litigation settings, if both parties have similar beliefs about the probability of winning at trial and make economically rational decisions, they ought to come to a settlement weighted to favor the party more likely to prevail at trial.98 The AO data, however, does not include any measure of settlement quality that could be used to confirm or analyze the relationship for these types of cases.
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.
Tables 2E and 2F show that there is considerable variance in the outcomes of different types of cases for both represented and pro se litigants. When plaintiffs proceed pro se, they win somewhere between 2 and 11 percent of cases, depending on the nature of the suit. When the defendant is pro se and the plaintiff is represented, the plaintiff wins somewhere between 43 percent and 93 percent of cases,89 depending on the nature of the suit. This substantial variance is not confined to pro se litigants. Even when both parties are represented, there is wide variance in the percentages of cases won by plaintiffs, ranging from just 13 percent in products liability and employment discrimination cases to 77 percent in property cases.90 But in essentially all categories, pro se litigants fare far worse than represented litigants.
The Connecticut Supreme Court narrowed criminal defendant's right to self representation, stating that "we are free to adopt for mentally ill or mentally incapacitated defendants who wish to represent themselves at trial a competency standard that differs from the standard for determining whether such a defendant is competent to stand trial". A Senior Assistant State's Attorney explained that the new standard essentially allows judges to consider whether the defendants are competent enough to perform the skills needed to defend themselves, including composing questions for voir dire and witnesses.
All judges are subject to the Code of Conduct for United States Judges. The Clerk of Court and Clerk's Office staff members are subject to the Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees. Part of the codes of conduct prohibit Clerk's Office employees from accepting any gift, without exception, from anyone seeking official action from or doing business with the court or from anyone whose interests may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of official duties. This prohibition includes accepting any sort of holiday gift, whether intended for the Clerk's Office as a whole or for a specific individual.
This surprisingly easy hack is one that can be done anytime, anywhere--and is rarely done enough. People underestimate the power of an erect spine or a rigid stance. Carrying yourself like you are proud to be who you are indirectly gives your brain feedback that you are indeed a lovely human, so that you subsequently positive feelings about yourself. Who knew the body could be such a powerful tool?
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.
Many states have amended their court procedures to make litigation less of a challenge for self-represented parties. For example, the New York State Courts’ “eTrack System” allows civil litigants to file court papers electronically, sign up for free reminders about court appearances, and receive e-mail notifications whenever a court updates their case file. New York has also established a website that contains information about legal procedures, a glossary and court forms. Visit www.nycourthelp.gov.
However, this book cannot serve as a complete guide to all the rules you need to know. For one thing, the exact rule in your court system may be somewhat different from the example we give. In that event, knowing about another similar rule—either a federal rule or another state’s rule—can help you locate the rule in your state. (See Chapter 23 for information on doing your own legal research.) Also, each court system has its own procedural rules that, though important, cannot be covered in this book. For example, local court rules set time limits for filing various kinds of documents and page limits on the length of those documents. You will have to learn and comply with these local requirements.
Remember, in Chapter II we discussed the five required elements of a lawsuit. Before filing a case in a federal court, you must decide if the court has jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is the authority given a court to hear and decide certain cases. The United States Supreme Court is given its authority by Article III of the United States Constitution. There may be instances when the United States Supreme Court might review a judgment rendered by a state court, but those instances are rare, occurring only when there has been a final judgment or decree of the highest court of the state in which a decision could be had involving a substantial federal question. Normally, the United States Supreme Court reviews judgments rendered by the United States Courts of Appeals, of which there are thirteen federal judicial circuits. The United States Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over matters involving treason and presidential impeachment.
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.
Christa Adkins, the owner of Pro Se One Stop Legal Document Services, LLC, offers highly personalized services to her customers because she has stood in their shoes and knows the fears and frustrations of navigating the legal system alone. Christa is not an attorney, but dedicates her heart and soul to helping other pro se litigants navigate the legal system and fill out their legal documents and forms. Christa has been highly successful in her own pro se endeavors. In 2016, she took her first appeal to the Third District Court of Appeal and successfully had the trial court reversed. Additionally, in 2016 she filed a successful pro se motion for disqualification of the trial judge and the trial judge was removed from her case. In 2017 Christa successfully submitted a pro se Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the Third District Court of Appeal. Her petition was granted.
This Part discusses trends in civil pro se litigation in federal district courts. It examines several important characteristics of pro se litigation: the volume, typical outcomes, and typical types of suits brought by pro se litigants. It then describes some implications of this data and thus helps contextualize the empirical analyses of pro se reforms that Parts III and IV present.
One important takeaway from this Comment, related to the limitations described above, is the importance of additional studies into the effectiveness of other reform measures, especially reform measures undertaken in courts other than federal district courts. As previously mentioned, other courts throughout the country have experimented with ways to help pro se litigants.130 Although the particular reforms analyzed here appear to have been ineffective, other reforms undertaken by other courts might achieve better results. With sufficient empirical legwork, successful reforms can be identified, and other courts can learn from those successes. Although courts likely attempt to learn from each other’s practices, without empirical validation of these techniques, there’s a risk that the blind are leading the blind. More empirical studies could help show the way.
As Clerk of Court for the District of Idaho, my deputy clerks and I are willing to assist you with questions regarding the Local Rules of Civil Procedure and the Local Rules of Criminal Procedure for the District of Idaho as well as the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Criminal Rules of Procedure. However, by law we cannot answer questions of a legal nature. Do not hesitate to call on us regarding a procedural matter.
Paul Bergman is a Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law and a recipient of a University Distinguished Teaching Award. His recent books include Reel Justice: The Courtroom Goes to the Movies (Andrews & McMeel); Trial Advocacy: Inferences, Arguments, Techniques (with Moore and Binder, West Publishing Co.); and Represent Yourself In Court and The Criminal Law Handbook (both with Berman-Barrett, Nolo). He has also published numerous articles in law journals.
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.
I'd also like to mention for those of you who are looking for Child Support help, this is not a good book for that. It has a tiny section on Child Support, then leaves you hanging. This may be because laws vary so much, but I thought I'd at least point it out. The book is more for general concepts, so the info falls short once you begin specializing in certain subject matters.
Use small claims court techniques in bench trials. Most states have revamped court rules and procedures to accommodate non-lawyers very well in one place: their small claims courts. Small claims cases are not simple; many are conceptually difficult. (Lawyers have been willing to accommodate the small claims court system because those cases present little or no potential for fees.)
Let the pro se party’s voice be heard. Individuals representing themselves at trial in civil litigation are often battling hardships on many fronts. Generally, they have found themselves in an unfamiliar and intimidating setting governed by a labyrinth of substantive and procedural rules, along with unwritten local customs and expectations. This maze can be challenging for even the most tested trial attorney. It is particularly daunting to pro se parties. Of course, it is frequently not by choice that pro se parties are in trial without the benefit of legal counsel. Whether they are acting as a plaintiff or a defendant, their status as a pro se party is many times forced by precarious financial situations. Moreover, the types of lawsuits in which pro se litigants are regularly involved—employment, professional malpractice, personal injury, whistleblower cases, and collections, to name a few—are often particularly rife with emotion and typically involve allegations of a sensitive, personal, and sometimes embarrassing nature. Indeed, these cases are often plagued by feelings of anger, resentment, pride, shame, and revenge. To make the situation even more challenging, pro se litigants frequently take the drastic step of representing themselves in civil litigation because they view themselves as victims of a wrong that must be made right, and they do not view as primary considerations the time and costs associated with redressing the wrong.
There are also freely accessible web search engines to assist pro se in finding court decisions that can be cited as an example or analogy to resolve similar questions of law. Google Scholar is the biggest database of full text state and federal courts decisions that can be accessed without charge. These web search engines often allow pro se to select specific state courts to search.
Finally, one other potential policy implication suggested by this Comment is that expanded access to counsel for certain pro se litigants may be an attractive option. This Comment does not fully analyze the potential costs or benefits of civil Gideon and accordingly comes to no conclusion about its overall merits.133 However, many commentators have opposed civil Gideon partially on the grounds that pro se reforms at the trial court level could be a cheaper, but still effective, alternative.134 The Supreme Court has suggested a similar belief.135 But while not totally conclusive for the reasons described above, this Comment indicates that those reforms have not had the kind of impact on case outcomes that increased access to counsel might have. Because these reforms do not yet appear to be a viable and effective alternative to civil Gideon, this Comment suggests that improved case outcomes may be better achieved through expanded access to counsel than through pro se reforms.
This Comment furthers the legal community’s understanding of issues in pro se litigation by conducting an empirical analysis of pro se reforms in federal district courts. By comparing case outcomes for pro se litigants in district courts that have implemented these types of reforms with the outcomes of similarly situated pro se litigants in courts that have not implemented any reforms, this Comment provides an initial assessment of the impact of those reforms. The analysis reveals that thus far, a wide range of reforms undertaken by federal district courts have not significantly impacted case outcomes for pro se litigants. This analysis conflicts with the intuitions of the Supreme Court, commentators, and judges and clerks of district court offices, who have indicated their belief that these reforms are effective.
Defendants who choose to appear pro se may do so because they believe they may gain tactical advantages against the prosecutor, such as obtaining sympathy from the jury, the opportunity to personally address the jury and witnesses. Pro se appearances may also delay the trial proceedings and enhance the possibility of a mistrial and a subsequent appeal.