Some states have just one kind of trial court, which hears all sorts of cases. In Illinois, for example, circuit courts hear all kinds of disputes. In other states, by contrast, cases that involve less than a certain dollar amount may be tried in one type of court (municipal, city, or justice court, for example), while larger cases go to another type of court (superior, county, or circuit court, for example).
“In little more than a year the clinic has built confidence in the justice system for many pro se litigants. Our legal staff and volunteers have been able to make the process less confusing for clinic visitors and guide them in the right direction, which improves their chances for satisfactory outcomes,” said Robyn Tarnofsky, the director of the clinic.
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.)
102. The types of cases that typically result in final judgment, and are evaluated here, are cases that are disposed of following judgment on default, consent, motion before trial, jury verdict, directed verdict, court trial, arbitral award, or other resolution. Cases disposed of via transfer or remand or dismissed due to settlement, voluntary dismissal, lack of jurisdiction, or want of prosecution are discarded in this analysis.
The clinic has also introduced a unique program that solicits junior lawyers at firms to take or defend depositions for pro se litigants on a pro bono basis. As a former litigator in private practice Tarnofsky recognized that in high stakes litigation, clients often want experienced lawyers handling depositions. This program has been welcomed by a number of large New York City law firms an opportunity to train the next generation of lawyers. For pro se litigants it means not having to face a tough deposition on their own, and having a far better chance to tell their stories and make the best case or mount the best defense possible.
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.
Nor do you need to be intimidated by the difficulty of the law or legal reasoning. Your trial will probably be concerned with facts, not abstract legal issues. For the most part, you can look up the law you need to know. (See Chapter 23 for information on how to do this.) Legal reasoning is not so different from everyday rational thinking. Forget the silly notion that you have to act or sound like an experienced lawyer to be successful in court. Both lawyers and nonlawyers with extremely varied personal styles can succeed in court. The advice to “be yourself” is as appropriate inside the courtroom as outside.
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.
Section provides several tables that highlight the frequency of pro se litigants across different types of legal claims and show which specific case types most frequently feature pro se litigants. Despite the fact that roughly 10 percent of federal district court litigation involves a pro se plaintiff, some types of litigation very rarely involve pro se plaintiffs, while other types of cases are brought by pro se plaintiffs much more than 10 percent of the time. The story is similar for pro se defendants, though the variation is less dramatic because pro se defendants comprise only 2 percent of defendants in civil suits in federal district courts. Even in light of this variance, pro se litigants comprise a significant raw number of civil suits in all categories.
In order to evaluate the effects of different pro se reform measures undertaken by district courts, this Section compares the win rates of pro se litigants in courts that have enacted each of the reforms discussed in the FJC Survey with the win rates of litigants in the districts that have not enacted those same reforms. Table 3A compares the win rates for plaintiffs in cases in which both parties are represented with those in which either the plaintiff or defendant is pro se based on whether the district court employs a particular policy.
When you go into a foreign country and want to communicate with the inhabitants, you have to talk THEIR lingo. Courtrooms are a foreign country and they have their own language. "Complaint language" (or "law talk") is what they call it. If you don't use it in your pleadings (that's what documents you file with the court are), you will not only not be listened to and taken seriously, you will not be HEARD. They will literally not SEE the words on the page if they are not written in their "language."
Posner’s resignation is a powerful reminder of the challenges pro se litigants continue to face. His belief that pro se litigants are frequently mistreated in civil litigation and denied a full and fair opportunity to vindicate their claims is neither new nor limited to federal appellate courts.3 Numerous legal commentators have expressed similar concerns.4 Yet, though the belief that pro se litigants are underserved by the legal community is widespread, the full extent of the challenges they face in court is still only partially understood.
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.
Unless your case is unusually complex, you really can represent yourself. You may not have all the legal training of a lawyer, but you do not need to go to law school to have common sense, to learn how to ask intelligent questions, or to recognize what makes people and information believable. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of the country’s most revered U.S. Supreme Court justices, “The life of the law has not been logic, it has been experience.” As these words suggest, your everyday life experience is the foundation of most of what you need to know to present a coherent, convincing case. Besides, as former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger was fond of pointing out, many lawyers are not such hotshots; they often come to court ill-prepared and lacking professional skills.
77. For more discussion of the nature of these fields and other data contained in the AO dataset, see generally Integrated Data Base Civil Documentation (Federal Judicial Center, 2017), archived at http://perma.cc/LT4F-2W5E. Additionally, several other fields are used in the data processing that is conducted before the analysis, such as using the docket number assigned by the district court to avoid double-counting cases. For more discussion of the data cleaning process, including the data used in that process, see
Great advice! Every point you have made about lawyers and their tricks, I have experienced. One of the greatest failures of the lower courts is the acceptance of inadequate documentation because they go unchallenged. The court is not going to do your work or come to your rescue as you may think. If the document is a not original or is forged, it is up to you to make the case. Even if the judge can see that a document may have an obvious forgery, you must still make the case against it.
15. “Right to counsel” in this Comment refers to a litigant’s right to have an attorney provided if the litigant is unable to afford a lawyer. In other contexts, it is sometimes defined more narrowly, such as a right to a lawyer only in the case of criminal defense or a right to a lawyer only if a litigant can afford his or her own lawyer. See generally, Note, The Indigent’s Right to Counsel in Civil Cases, 76 Yale L J 545 (1967).
Do I have a basic understanding of how court procedures work? Custody hearings, and court procedures in general, can be quite confusing for first-timers. Parents considering pro se representation usually benefit from attending a couple of court hearings in advance, just to become more familiar with what to expect in court and what proper court etiquette looks like. (And remember: any questions you have about proper court procedures can always be addressed to the court clerk. So seek that person out and develop a friendly rapport with him or her.)
One more effective path might look toward a growing body of research on more effective ways to provide self-help resources and literature to pro se litigants. A recent article by Professors Greiner, Dalié Jiménez, and Lois R. Lupica details their endeavors to develop a theory of the issues that potential pro se civil litigants would face in the legal process. Their article then draws on recent developments in a number of fields, such as education, psychology, and public health, to imagine what truly effective self-help materials would look like and how they might help pro se litigants fare better at trial.132 Courts and commentators could try to enhance the effectiveness of their reform efforts by drawing on this and other similar research. Using this kind of research to provide effective educational handbooks or to help courts communicate in ways that are more useful to pro se litigants could enhance the types of pro se reforms analyzed in this Comment.
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.