Remember this phrase: Litigation Privilege. The phrase has a formal meaning, but in layman’s language it means that lawyers can do just about anything, especially to a self-represented litigant, to protect their clients. They can lie, steal, cheat–and kill if they could get away with it–to win. Lawyers don’t always need tricks to defeat pro se litigants, but they try them anyway. They can scare defendants into paying more than they owe or settling for far less than they deserve. They’ll use a request for admissions to make pro se litigants “admit” to undeserved liability by not answering. Some will even attempt to keep away your court reporter by lying to you or to your court reporting agency. So keep your eyes open when you’ve cornered a lawyer. Chances are, there’s a trick coming, and when it does, don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Stay focused on your case. Reacting in anger by moving for sanctions, writing letters to the judge, reporting lawyer behavior in a hearing, or moving to disqualify a lawyer makes thinking and strategizing difficult. That’s not to say certain issues shouldn’t be addressed. If you must take an issue head-on, like moving for sanctions, do it strategically so you’ll get the most out of it. Otherwise, only address lawyer antics and judicial bias when it hurts your case, not when it hurts your feelings.
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.
According to Boston Bar Association Task Force 1998 report in every court studied by the task force, litigants without lawyers are present in surprising numbers. In some counties, over 75% of the cases in Probate and Family Courts have at least one party unrepresented. In the Northeast Housing Court, over 50% of the landlords and 92% of the tenants appear without lawyers in summary process cases.
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.
“Federal cases are difficult for litigants, who are anxious to begin with and understandably confused by what is a complicated legal process. Even when their cases are potentially meritorious, without legal advice it is very easy for litigants to make mistakes that compromise their cases,” said Tarnofsky. “Thanks to the support of the SDNY, the NYLAG Pro Se Clinic is off to a great start.”
This Comment presents commentators with a perspective on the volume, types, and typical success rates of pro se litigants in federal district courts. It shows that nonprisoner pro se litigants comprise a meaningful percentage of the federal docket. Moreover, pro se litigants show up in substantial numbers across many different types of litigation, from property cases, to torts cases, to civil rights cases. However, in nearly all of those types of cases, pro se litigants fare at least several times worse than represented litigants; overall, pro se plaintiffs are less than one-tenth as likely to win cases as represented plaintiffs, whereas pro se defendants are only about one-third as likely to win cases as represented defendants.
This bias exists in direct contradiction to the Supreme Court's ruling in Faretta v. California. that everyone has the constitutional right to proceed without counsel. The reasoning behind that decision means that the Constitution requires our justice system to be neutral towards the self-represented litigant. That in turn means that the courts must offer a level playing field for the represented and unrepresented alike, consistent with basic principles of fairness.
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.