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.


litigant’s interest in personal liberty, not the general interests of litigants in vindicating legal rights, was the critical question in determining whether the litigant has a right to counsel.39 Accordingly, in a blow to civil Gideon activists, the Supreme Court held that there was a “presumption that there is no right to appointed counsel in the absence of at least a potential deprivation of physical liberty,” signaling the Supreme Court’s reluctance to extend the right to counsel to civil litigants.40 Lassiter remains good law.
Genius often makes itself known in short bursts, so don't let it go when it comes around. If you have a great idea for a new work process, a recipe to try, or even a way to drive more efficiently, write it down. This way, you'll remember the strokes of genius that fleetingly pass through, and you'll be able to look back on them and remind yourself of the little things when you're feeling down.

Although it's a little cheesy, having an alter ego of sorts is a very helpful way to boost self-confidence. If we pretend like we're someone else--strong, willful, self-confident--we never have to subject ourselves to the fear of our personal worth not being enough for others. We should not necessarily lie about who we are, or invent false facts, but instead find another mode of existence in which we may tap into to be comfortable in our own skin.


Consumers have tried to convince courts to set aside arbitration provisions on the grounds that they are unconscionable and deprive them of their day in court. However, these challenges are not usually successful. For example, under the Federal Arbitration Act, arbitration provisions can trump consumers’ rights to file class action lawsuits. (AT&T Mobility LLC v. Conception, 131 S.Ct. 1740 (2011)).
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.
Utah’s Standards of Professionalism and Civility state that “Lawyers shall adhere to their express promises and agreements, oral or written” (Standard 6). Standard 13 states, “Lawyers shall not file or serve motions, pleadings or other papers at a time calculated to unfairly limit other counsel‘s opportunity to respond, or to take other unfair advantage of an opponent, or in a manner intended to take advantage of another lawyer‘s unavailability.”
Paul Bergman is a Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law and a recipient of two University Distinguished Teaching Awards. His books include Nolo’s Deposition Handbook (with Moore, Nolo); Reel Justice: The Courtroom Goes to the Movies (Andrews & McMeel); Trial Advocacy: Inferences, Arguments, Techniques (with Moore and Binder, West Publishing Co.); Trial Advocacy in a Nutshell (West Publishing Co.); Represent Yourself in Court: How to Prepare & Try a Winning Case (with Berman, Nolo); Depositions in a Nutshell (with Moore, Binder, and Light, West Publishing); Lawyers as Counselors: A Client-Centered Approach (with Binder, Tremblay, and Weinstein, West Publishing); and Cracking the Case Method (Vandeplas Publishing). He has also published numerous articles in law journals.

Every agency tends to make its own rules and follow its own unique set of procedures. Many agencies describe their procedures on a website. In addition, an agency will furnish you with its rules as soon as you indicate that you want to file a claim. Be sure to contact the agency, ask for a copy of its rules before initiating a hearing, and follow them. The federal government and every state have an Administrative Procedure Act that provides basic protections in administrative hearings. You should read the applicable law and make sure the agency follows it. You can get information about these laws from a convenient database maintained by Florida State University at www.law.fsu.edu/library/admin.
91. Property cases are an interesting exception, with a represented plaintiff still 0.88 times as likely to win a case against a represented litigant as against a pro se defendant. Though the noncausal nature of the comparisons weighs against drawing any overly significant inferences from this fact, it does suggest that the trend toward increasing numbers of defendants proceeding pro se in property suits might not be a particularly important issue.
Many lawyers routinely ask clients to pay a “retainer”—a deposit or advance fee—that is kept in a trust account and used as services are provided. Your legal coach may ask for a retainer in order to see that you are serious and have the money to pay. However, you shouldn’t be expected to come up with a large amount of money, because you do not plan on running up high legal bills. A fee of more than $500 is excessive, especially before you know whether the legal coach relationship is really working out.
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.
 A. Your initial court date will  be  shown as the "Trial Date" near the top  of the complaint. If the defendant is not served with summons, the Judge will cause another summons (called an "alias summons") to be issued; a new  "Return Date", and a  new trial date will be shown on the complaint.  You are required to appear in court on the trial date even if you know the defendant was not served with summons, but you need  not bring your  witnesses. Your appearance is required so that  you may proceed with renewed efforts to serve the  summons.
A court hearing is usually a short and narrowly defined proceeding in which you are not entitled to a jury. A judge conducts the hearing and makes a ruling. Depending on the kind of dispute you’re facing, you may find yourself in a hearing rather than a trial. For example, you’ll probably have a hearing if you are seeking an increase or a decrease in spousal or child support following your divorce or if you need to prove how much money you are entitled to after a defendant has failed to respond to your claims. This book’s advice is as pertinent to hearings as it is to trials. Many of the courtroom procedures and rules of evidence are exactly the same in a hearing as in a trial. And you still must offer evidence in a way that persuades the judge or hearing officer to rule in your favor.
Try to answer questions on your own. Remember that you are hiring a legal coach, not a full-service lawyer. That means you need to do as much as you can by yourself and only turn to the coach when you are really stuck. By reading this book all the way through and consulting a nearby law library, you can answer many of your questions on your own. And those you cannot answer completely you can often narrow down.
Gary Zeidwig doesn’t think so, at least not all the time. Zeidwig, an award-winning lawyer, reveals that there are some cases where an individual can move forward pro se, (for oneself) that is, advocating without an attorney and defending or fighting for their rights on their own behalf, and that it’s not only acceptable but relatively safe to do so.
128. However, this result is not robust against a different choice of years. For example, while the point estimate is still negative, the 95 percent confidence interval for a regression run on data from 1999 through 2006 includes zero (though the 90 percent confidence interval does not). Thus, the better takeaway at this point is not that the reform has had a negative impact on win rates but that it has not had a significant positive impact on win rates.

Courts are public institutions belonging to the people, and you have the right to represent yourself there. However, courts are also bureaucratic institutions with very heavy case­loads. Historically, filing clerks, courtroom clerks, court reporters, and even judges have usually preferred to deal with lawyers rather than with people who represent themselves. (When you represent yourself, you may find yourself referred to as a “pro per” or “pro se” litigant, Latin abbreviations favored by judges and lawyers.) Although the increasing number of people representing themselves is beginning to change these attitudes in some places, many court personnel ­believe (often mistakenly) that they can do their work more quickly and easily when they work with lawyers than when they work with people who are representing themselves.
Some still remain skeptical about pro se reform. Commentators have argued that unfair advantages for pro se litigants correspond to unfair disadvantages for their opponents in civil proceedings, that tweaking the court system specifically for pro se litigants undermines the rule of law, and that reforms may lead courts to devote more resources to cases that often prove frivolous.61 Other detractors of trial-court reform for pro se litigants have opposed it on opposite grounds, arguing that these reforms may be counterproductive and harm pro se litigants62 or that they don’t go far enough and that civil Gideon is needed to fully protect the rights of pro se litigants.63
Why file a Pro Se complaint? As the chair of an advocacy group called the Disability Action Crew (DAC), I have lots of information to help others advocate for access. With every question I get asked about advocacy, it seems I often end up with more questions that go unanswered. It's like a coach trying to beat a team that makes all the rules as the game goes along. He's out there, he's trying to win, but every time he goes for the goal there's a different set of rules. Advocacy's like that‹we don't know the rule of winning access until we break them. And we look to authorities for the answers: the DOJ, the EEOC, the HRC, the DOT.
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.
For example, the Federal Rules of Evidence (often referred to as the FRE) govern the introduction of evidence in federal court trials. But about 40 states also use the FRE in their state court trials. And even those states that have not formally adopted the FRE have evidence rules that are quite similar to them. This means that, for the most part, trials are conducted in the same way nationwide. Another set of federal rules, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (or FRCP) apply similarly to govern procedural (rather than evidentiary) rules. Because of this basic uniformity, the book frequently refers you to ­specific rules that, even if they differ somewhat from your state’s rules, should help you understand the basic procedures that will apply to your case.
analysis.124 The analysis below attempts only to assess the impact of the creation of the pro se office over its first five years of existence. Specific information about subsequent reforms implemented by the office is not readily available and hence not ripe for analysis. However, any such reforms may have had a different impact on case outcomes for pro se litigants and, accordingly, may indicate more promising future directions for pro se reform.
You can contact a lawyer referral service to be connected with an experienced lawyer in your area. In Chicago and Cook County, you can contact the Chicago Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at (312) 554-2001 or https://lrs.chicagobar.org/. Outside of Cook County, you can contact the Illinois State Bar Association IllinoisLawyerFinder at (800) 922-8757 or https://www.isba.org/public/illinoislawyerfinder. 

50. For one helpful discussion of how and why the efficacy of Gideon has been doubted, see Donald A. Dripps, Why Gideon Failed: Politics and Feedback Loops in the Reform of Criminal Justice, 70 Wash & Lee L Rev 883, 894–99 (2013). But see Wilkinson, 67 Vand L Rev at 1127–29 (cited in note 3) (arguing that criminal defense lawyers appointed to represent indigent defendants are typically effective).


Make plain-English information about how to navigate in the court available to the public. All court procedures can be explained in plain English. Nolo Press, other self-help law publishers and the Maricopa County Superior Court have proven that this is so. Unfortunately the courts systematically refuse to inform self-represented litigants about available private-sector publications, apparently on the ground that they don't want to be seen endorsing them. Fair enough. But the courts should then follow the lead of the Maricopa County Superior Court and make plain-English guides available to all.
All jurisdictions have adopted rules regarding unbundled legal services. For example, most states follow the American Bar Association’s Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2(c), which provides that lawyers may limit the scope of their representation, as long as the limitations are reasonable under the circumstances, and the client gives informed consent.
The BIGGEST mistake pro se litigants make is thinking they know more than they do, as a way of overcompensating for lack of confidence. False bravado can lead you into mistakes #2, #3, and #4 on this list and a whole lot more. You don’t bring a court reporter because you don’t feel you need one. You don’t do research because you don’t have time, and you think you know enough. You react to or challenge every lawyer trick because you believe, without any evidence, that it’s the best thing to do. You talk about admiralty law, not because you know anything about it or where it fits into your case, but because you heard someone talk about it. You file the wrong motions in the wrong situations. It’s important to know what you don’t know and act accordingly. Instead of talking about sovereign citizenship, talk about and use civil procedure. Rather than reacting to lawyer antics, judicial bias or a sense of unfairness, focus on your case. Learn it backwards and forwards, and then bring your court reporter. That’s how you win. See Sovereign Citizens Make Pro Se Litigants Look Silly for more about the “problem” with sovereign citizens.

IAALS recently released two new reports focused on the experiences of self-represented litigants in the family court system.  Cases Without Counsel: Research on Experiences of Self-Representation in U.S. Family Court which explores the issues from the litigants' perspective.  Cases Without Counsel: Our Recommendations after Listening to the Litigants outlines recommendations for courts, legal service providers, and communities to best serve self-represented litigants in family cases.
Do your homework and educate the court. It is important, at the outset of a case, for trial counsel to determine if he or she is litigating against a wolf in sheep’s clothing. “When the pro se litigant is really an expert litigant, the court’s sympathy for his presumed inexpertise diminishes markedly.” Scott L. Garland, “Avoiding Goliath’s Fate: Defeating a Pro Se Litigant,” Litigation, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Winter 1998), at 45, 50 (1998). A search of the county or state docket may reveal that the pro se party has actually been involved in numerous lawsuits and maybe has even been deemed a vexatious litigant. Armed with this knowledge, counsel is better equipped to handle both interacting with the self-represented party and convincing the court that the pro se party’s failure to follow the rules warrants sanctions.
The lack of civility among lawyers is a frequent topic at bar association meetings. Canon 7 of the American Bar Association Model Code states that a “lawyer should represent a client zealously within the bounds of the law.” Many lawyers blame an over-enthusiastic reliance on Canon 7 for what they consider a rising tide of lawyer incivility (or bullying) that characterizes modern litigation. Commonly-cited examples include:
125. Although the reform was implemented in May 2001, this Comment codes this variable to 1 only for all cases filed in 2002 and after. The theoretical reason for this is to give the reform the benefit of the doubt; it may have had an effect, but that effect may appear only after it was integrated into EDNY’s normal pro se proceedings. In practice, the regression results do not meaningfully change if this variable is set to “1” for all cases filed in May 2001 and after.
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
Overall, the analysis in this Section suggests that, though many federal district courts have implemented reforms aimed at improving case outcomes for pro se litigants, they have not yet succeeded in improving those outcomes. Tables 3A and 3B suggest that a variety of policies, each implemented in a substantial number of district courts, have all been ineffective in improving case outcomes for pro se litigants. Similarly, the evidence suggests that even courts that have implemented multiple or many of these policies have not improved outcomes for pro se litigants thus far. Despite the belief expressed by clerks’ offices and chief judges of federal district courts, commentators, and the Supreme Court that these types of measures are effective, the empirical evidence suggests that these measures make no difference in case outcomes.115
Acknowledging the limits described above, this Comment does find that pro se reform in federal district courts has not yet meaningfully impacted case outcomes for pro se litigants, whereas increased access to counsel has had somewhat more promising results in the experimental literature.131 The policy implications of those facts are not immediately clear. These results suggest that increased access to counsel may help pro se litigants vindicate rights; however, the wisdom of that approach depends on whether the costs of that increased access to counsel outweigh the benefits or whether there are cheaper ways to achieve those benefits. One critical question in this vein is whether there are more effective reform opportunities available to courts, because more effective reforms could still conceivably enable improved outcomes for pro se litigants at a lower cost than increased access to counsel. This Comment finds little evidence that measures thus far implemented by courts have improved case outcomes. Hence, merely renewing and expanding similar reforms does not appear to be an especially promising path forward.

There is every reason to believe that the number of pro se litigants involved in litigation in federal and state courts will continue to rise in the coming years, especially given the courts’ focus on increasing access to pro se parties. Along with this increase, the challenges facing the judicial system and trial counsel involving unrepresented parties will continue to rise, requiring increasingly careful consideration. However, armed with the best practices, trial counsel can help alleviate some of the challenges both sides of the aisle face.
Pro se legal representation (/ˌproʊ ˈsiː/ or /ˌproʊ ˈseɪ/) comes from Latin, translating to "for oneself" and literally meaning "on behalf of themselves", which basically means advocating on one's own behalf before a court or other tribunal, rather than being represented by a lawyer. This may occur in any court proceeding, whether one is the defendant or plaintiff in civil cases, and when one is a defendant in criminal cases. Pro se is a Latin phrase meaning "for oneself" or "on one's own behalf". This status is sometimes known as propria persona (abbreviated to "pro per"). In England and Wales the comparable status is that of "litigant in person".
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