*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER I am licensed to practice law in the State of Michigan and have offices in Wayne and Ingham Counties. My practice is focused in the areas of estate planning and probate administration. I am ethically required to state that the above answer does not create an attorney/client relationship. These responses should be considered general legal education and are intended to provide general information about the question asked. Frequently, the question does not include important facts that, if known, could significantly change the answer. Information provided on this site should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney that practices in your state. The law changes frequently and varies from state to state. If I refer to your state's laws, you should not rely on what I say; I just did a quick Internet search and found something that looked relevant that I hoped you would find helpful. You should verify and confirm any information provided with an attorney licensed in your state.
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.)
However, the few reliable studies conducted thus far tend to suggest that providing access to counsel significantly improves outcomes for civil litigants. Greiner and Pattanayak identified two prior studies that were properly conducted to evaluate the effects of access to counsel. While noting it was premature to draw conclusions, they pointed out that one of those studies found that access to counsel was effective in improving case outcomes, and the other study found it effective in improving case outcomes in one of its two experimental settings.56 A follow-up experiment by Greiner, Pattanayak, and Jonathan Hennessy found that the assistance of counsel led to a significant improvement in litigation outcomes compared to more piecemeal assistance.57 Specifically, they found that, from a sample of litigants facing eviction in a district court, about one-third retained their rental units after receiving unbundled legal assistance—legal aid short of an
There are two court systems in the United States: the state courts and the federal courts. The state courts typically hear matters relating to civil, criminal, domestic (divorce and child custody), probate, and property in accordance with the laws of each state. Matters typically heard by the federal courts involve violation of federal laws; admiralty and maritime matters; United States patent, trademark, and copyright matters; bankruptcy proceedings; proceedings against ambassadors, consuls, and ministers. These matters usually fall into two main categories: (1) federal question cases -- cases which arise under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States; and (2) diversity cases -- civil matters arising between parties who are citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.
Knowing ahead of time that you may encounter a hostile attitude is the best weapon against it. Read and study this book and other legal resources, many of which are available free online or in your local library. Learn how to prepare and present a persuasive case and follow the proper procedures for the Clerk’s Office and the courtroom. If you believe that court personnel at any level are being rude to you, be courteous and professional in ­return, even as you insist upon fair treatment. By knowing and following court rules and courtroom techniques, you can often earn the respect of the judge and the others who work in the courtroom. As a result, you may well find that they will go out of their way to help you.
If you have a legal dispute, you may well find yourself involved in an arbitration rather than a trial. One reason is that in many states, judges have the power to order you and your adversary to arbitrate certain kinds of disputes. Or you may have signed an agreement that provides for binding arbitration of all disputes arising under the agreement. For example, if you are an investor who believes a brokerage house violated securities laws while handling your account, a condominium owner who has filed suit against your ­condominium association for unreasonably restricting your right to remodel your unit, or a business­person who wants to sue for breach of a written contract, you may have agreed in writing (in the broker’s agreement, the condominium association’s set of rules, or the business contract) to arbitrate all ­disputes.
7. At least some commentators have expressed concern that allocating more legal resources to pro se civil litigants might take away from resources needed for indigent criminal defense. See Barton and Bibas, 160 U Pa L Rev at 980–81 (cited in note 5). It is important, however, to recognize that legal resources also may trade off with nonlegal resources, and an analysis accounting for these trade-offs may make the economics of expanded legal resources for pro se litigants look more attractive. Additional money spent on lawyers or pro se assistance might be more economical than it first appears if, for example, additional state spending in an eviction or wrongful termination proceeding saves the government from paying for homeless shelters or welfare assistance at a later date.
attorney-client relationship—whereas approximately two-thirds retained their units after receiving both unbundled legal assistance and representation by counsel.58 Overall, though the body of evidence is still limited, the empirical evidence suggests that providing lawyers for pro se litigants substantially improves case outcomes for those litigants. Critically, this implies that providing adequate access to counsel may substantially improve case outcomes for a meaningful percentage of pro se litigants.59
Attorneys often find themselves with emotionally charged adversaries who have little or no understanding of time lines, due dates, discovery requests, or rules of evidence and civil procedure. Attorneys opposing pro se plaintiffs have a particularly difficult job zealously representing their own clients. They are automatically dubbed the “Goliath” by the court and juries, and find themselves pitted against the seemingly defenseless “David” pro se plaintiff.

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.
The American Bar Association (ABA) has also been involved with issues related to self-representation.[65] 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.[66]

In so holding, the court noted: “When considering motions to dismiss a pro se complaint such as this, ‘courts must construe [the complaint] broadly, and interpret [it] to raise the strongest arguments that [it] suggest[s].'” Id. at 145-46 (internal quotations omitted). “This is especially true when dealing with pro se complaints alleging civil rights violations.” Id. at 146, citing Weinstein v. Albright, 261 F.3d 127, 132 (2d Cir. 2001).


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.

×