Administrative hearings rather than trials typically result when individuals contest decisions made by government agencies, or when government agencies refuse to act favorably on individuals’ requests. Thanks in part to movies and TV, a popular notion is that in the U.S., trials are the most common method of resolving civil disputes. In fact, across the country many more administrative hearings than trials occur.

Public Counsel's Federal Pro Se Clinic can provide free legal assistance to people representing themselves in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.  The Clinic does not assist with criminal, bankruptcy, habeas, appeals, or any state cases.  The Clinic does not provide representation in court and cannot find an attorney to represent you.


The Pro Se Education Program helps you learn about the divorce and parentage process. It will educate you about your responsibilities during the court process. It will help you understand court procedures and what forms you need to fill out. You will also learn about services available to help with problems affecting families. Anyone may attend, whether or not they are a party to a case. Classes are free.
49. See, for example, Barton and Bibas, 160 U Pa L Rev at 980 (cited in note 5) (identifying flaws in the arguments of civil Gideon advocates); Barton, 62 Fla L Rev at 1249 (cited in note 36) (describing it as “quite unlikely that the current Court would even take a civil Gideon case”). See also generally Laura K. Abel, A Right to Counsel in Civil Cases: Lessons from Gideon v. Wainwright, 15 Temple Political & CR L Rev 527 (2006).
There is limited Supreme Court jurisprudence on trial-court reforms for civil pro se litigants. However, an extensive body of case law establishes the right to counsel for indigent criminal litigants and then denies that right to civil litigants who cannot afford counsel. Moreover, in one recent case, Turner v Rogers,13 the Supreme Court established a limited right to procedural protections for civil pro se litigants, creating the potential for new jurisprudence establishing new rights for civil pro se litigants.14
Tables 2E and 2F, the final tables in this Part, examine how win rates for pro se litigants vary across different types of cases. The win ratios in Table 2E compare the probability of a plaintiff winning when both parties are represented to the probability of a plaintiff winning when the plaintiff is a pro se plaintiff but the defendant is represented. In the column “Plaint Rep’d / Plaint Pro Se,” the number 2.0 would mean that plaintiffs win twice as often when both parties are represented as compared to cases in which the plaintiff is pro se. The higher the number, the better represented litigants fare relative to pro se litigants.

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.
The potential relevance of selection bias in this analysis should also be addressed. As Part II discusses, selection bias can likely explain a portion of the gap in case outcomes between pro se and represented litigants.110 However, as this Part discusses, the relevant sample for comparison is the difference in case outcomes between pro se litigants in courts that have implemented reforms and courts that have not implemented reforms. Thus, the pro se cases in different district courts are similarly affected by this selection bias. Litigants with weaker cases may be more likely to proceed pro se in EDNY, but they are also more likely to proceed pro se in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) or the Northern District of Illinois. Accordingly, the cases being compared should presumably be similar in average strength, or at least there is no reason to think this selection bias will result in differences in average case strength for pro se litigants across different district courts. These selection bias issues result in a gap in the average strength of cases brought by pro se litigants and represented litigants, but they do not lead to a gap between the average strength of cases brought by pro se litigants in two different district courts.111
Individual lawyers almost always find it difficult to actually see the bias against the self-represented that pervades our courts, just as a few years ago, judges who complimented woman lawyers on their looks were shocked when they were labeled as sexist. Few lawyers are able or willing to come to terms with the fact that a significant portion of their livelihood is based squarely on barriers to self-representation that the courts erect and enforce.
As seen in Table 2A, civil nonprisoner pro se litigation appears to comprise a stable proportion of federal district courts’ dockets.78 Averaged over several four-year time periods, the percentage of cases in federal district courts that were filed by pro se plaintiffs has ranged only from 9 to 10 percent. However, that still constitutes an average of more than fifteen thousand federal district court cases each year involving nonprisoner pro se plaintiffs. Similarly, the percentage of cases that have been answered by pro se defendants has hovered around 2 percent.
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Even though it's great to share our goals and aspirations with others--whether they are personal or career-oriented--opening ourselves up to that sense of vulnerability to others subconsciously creates anxiety. Although we may not even realize it, sharing the things you would most like to achieve involuntarily sets expectations for ourselves in the eyes of others--expectations that can often sap your confidence if unmet.
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.
In order to evaluate the impact of EDNY’s pro se reforms, this Comment runs a logistic regression using whether the plaintiff won the case as the independent variable. The dataset for this regression is all cases decided in the four New York district courts between 1998 and 2007 that involved pro se plaintiffs and represented defendants. This dataset includes 578 cases from the Northern District of New York (NDNY), 2,658 cases from EDNY, 3,843 cases from SDNY, and 668 cases from the Western District of New York (WDNY). The key variable of interest is a binary variable that is coded “1” if the case is in EDNY and filed after the implementation of the pro se reforms and “0” otherwise.125 There were 1,408 cases in this dataset from after EDNY implemented the reforms.
Gideon, the movement has generally focused on providing counsel for indigent parties in proceedings involving threats to their basic needs.47 From the movement’s inception, commentators have been divided over the merits of civil Gideon. Advocates have put forth a number of arguments in favor of civil Gideon. They have argued that representation in civil litigation secures constitutional rights to due process and equal protection of law, is necessary to ensure fair trials, is “sound social policy,” and helps ensure more consistent outcomes for defendants.48 Critics have countered with both direct refutations and alternative suggestions. They have argued that Gideon wasn’t that effective in aiding criminal defendants, so civil Gideon would not be either; civil Gideon would be ineffective notwithstanding the effectiveness of Gideon; civil
76. It is important to note that, although this Comment is limited to analyzing suits filed in federal district courts, a large volume of pro se litigation occurs in state courts. Some specialized courts, such as those focused on domestic relations, have high portions of their dockets devoted to pro se cases. However, many nonspecialized state courts also have a significant volume of pro se cases. Further, many pro se litigants in federal district courts appeal their cases, resulting in substantial pro se litigation in federal appellate courts. For more discussion of pro se litigation throughout the US legal system, see generally, Stephan Landsman, The Growing Challenge of Pro Se Litigation, 13 Lewis & Clark L Rev 439 (2009). For one example of pro se reform undertaken by specific state courts and the effects of those reforms on litigation, see Eovaldi and Meyers, 72 Nw U L Rev at 975–78 (cited in note 4).
Courts across the country are increasing the resources available to the surge of pro se litigants attempting to navigate the judicial system. Courts are not only addressing the legal and procedural obstacles facing pro se litigants, but they are also focusing on “sociological [and] psychological aspects of how unrepresented litigants feel about the overall litigation experience.” Id. at 3. Likewise, attorneys, and civil trial lawyers in particular, must be cautious of the challenges and special considerations involving pro se litigants.

83. Table 2C simply removes cases classified as “Missing/Unknown” or “Both” from Table 2B and recalculates the percentages. All analyses of cases reaching final judgment in this Comment focus on the subset of case dispositions that commonly reach final judgment. Cases dismissed for want of prosecution, that settle, or that otherwise do not typically receive entry of final judgment on resolution are excluded from these analyses. For more discussion of the calculation methodology, see Appendix: AO Data Processing.
Know the Rules of the Road.  Before filing a lawsuit, you must carefully read your state’s code of civil procedure and the court’s local rules. If you also have federal claims and wish to file in federal court, then you must read the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, as well as the particular district’s local rules. In addition, some judges have their own rules called local local rules. You must familiarize yourself with these rules as well.  
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."
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This book explains rules and techniques for preparing and trying a civil case, including how to handle a case in family court or bank­ruptcy court. It does not cover criminal cases. See “Civil and Criminal Cases,” below. You will learn how to figure out what evidence you need to present a legally solid case, whether you are a plaintiff or a defendant. Among other things, you will learn:
The empirical findings in Parts II, III, and IV have a number of potentially important implications for the future of pro se litigation. However, before considering the policy implications, this Comment must reiterate the limits of this analysis. First, this analysis centers only on case outcomes. Further analysis—for example, a survey-based analysis that asks litigants how they feel after they went through the litigation process—may reveal substantial benefits stemming from pro se reforms that this study does not find. Second, this analysis shows only that the reforms highlighted throughout this analysis have not impacted case outcomes for nonprisoner pro se litigants on average across courts. However, it might be the case that certain courts have been much more successful in implementing these reforms than others, and this analysis masks those successes. Moreover, limitations on survey data, coupled with the fact that litigation frequently takes years to resolve, mean that most of the data analyzed in this
With that said, some breaches of procedure by a pro se litigant are important, while others are not. To navigate these inevitable breaches to the benefit of a client, counsel must determine how the court generally views such breaches and take steps to ensure the court understands when the breaches are material (e.g., the breach prejudices a party unfairly). However, even potentially armed with such knowledge, the court may have a “tendency to stretch or ignore the procedural rules in the pro se litigant’s favor.” Id. at 50. While counsel can continually remind the court that the pro se litigant must be held to the same standard as an attorney, “some courts may still regard procedural breaches as relatively unimportant.” Id. Thus, it becomes imperative “to convince the court that the procedural breach is a serious matter.” Id. In other words, counsel must educate the court in both a succinct and compelling way—whether through an oral objection or appropriate written means—that the pro se litigant’s procedural failure is unduly prejudicial to counsel’s client, the court, the administration of justice generally, or some or all of these.
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?
83. Table 2C simply removes cases classified as “Missing/Unknown” or “Both” from Table 2B and recalculates the percentages. All analyses of cases reaching final judgment in this Comment focus on the subset of case dispositions that commonly reach final judgment. Cases dismissed for want of prosecution, that settle, or that otherwise do not typically receive entry of final judgment on resolution are excluded from these analyses. For more discussion of the calculation methodology, see Appendix: AO Data Processing.

*** 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.

Another popular method of resolving disputes outside of court is mediation, which is generally less formal and less costly than arbitration. Mediation is a voluntary process in which you meet with your adversary in the company of a neutral third person, the mediator. The mediator has no power to impose a solution; rather, the mediator’s role is to facilitate settlement by clarifying each party’s position, encouraging cooper­ation, and suggesting possible solutions. Professional mediators charge for their services, typically by the hour. Normally, the parties split the mediator’s fee.
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.
Many years ago, after winning a motion, an older judge asked me to stay behind after the parties left. He took me aside and said simply: "I want you to know that the case before yours today was to protect a little girl who's grandfather thinks it's fun to extinguish cigars on her legs." I knew what he wanted me to know, and I never forgot. Other people's cases are serious, too.
Though arbitration proceedings are generally less formal than trials, most of the principles ­described in this book also apply to arbitration. As in a trial, you and your adversary present evidence to the arbitrator through your own testimony and the testimony of witnesses. Like a judge, an arbitrator evaluates the credibility and legal significance of evidence to decide whether you win or lose the case.

Table 3B—providing forms and handbooks as well as individual case assistance, for instance. Because this reform effort is different from those that Part III discusses, it’s hard to directly compare them. But both sets of reforms fit into a similar broad bucket: attempts by courts to improve the pro se litigation process by facilitating simpler and more convenient interactions between pro se litigants and the courts.

Turner, the most recent Supreme Court ruling on the rights of civil pro se litigants, threw an unexpected twist into this line of cases and provided fodder for both proponents and detractors of the expanded right to counsel for civil litigants. In Turner, all nine justices agreed that the state was not required to provide counsel in a civil contempt hearing even if the contempt order would have resulted in incarceration.41 Nonetheless, a five-justice majority overturned the sentence, holding that the state must “have in place alternative procedures that ensure a fundamentally fair determination of the critical incarceration-related question.”42 The Court highlighted a “set of ‘substitute procedural safeguards’”—for example, notice about critical issues in the case, the use of forms to elicit relevant information, and other potential protections—that could stand in for assistance of counsel and ensure the “‘fundamental fairness’ of the proceeding even where the State does not pay for counsel for an indigent defendant.”43
63. As an example, pro se reforms could be counterproductive in a streamlined pro se office at a district court that consistently suggests dismissing pro se cases before a full hearing. For a more detailed discussion of entities that have called for civil Gideon rather than pro se trial court reform, and the contexts in which they have done so, see Greiner, Pattanayak, and Hennessy, 126 Harv L Rev at 906–07 (cited in note 47).
Comment—appear to have no more than a 1 percent impact on the percent of pro se litigants that actually win cases in court. Perhaps more likely, they do not actually impact case outcomes at all, and the 1 percent variation is simply noise. Regardless of whether they account for some small improvement, however, these results show that pro se reforms are not significantly moving the needle in terms of case outcomes. Any potential improvement is substantially smaller than what the experimental literature suggests would result from improved access to counsel.112 Hence, compared to pro se win rates with a lawyer, these reforms cannot be considered a meaningful substitute for access to counsel even if they yield a small improvement, at least insofar as the goal is to help pro se litigants win more cases.
Pro Se One Stop Legal Document Services, LLC is not a substitute for an attorney and we do not offer legal advice. We simply recognize the dilemma placed upon the consumer who cannot afford or chooses not to incur expensive attorney’s fees. Without any assistance in preparing legal documents and forms, many consumers go without taking any legal action or simply go at the legal system lost and alone, which often leads to devastating results. Not all legal matters require an attorney. We offer a low-cost alternative by helping you fill out and file the necessary documents and forms; and teach you how to closely monitor your case. We look forward to serving you!
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.
Congratulations! You have just filed your first Pro Se complaint. Feel free to share your new knowledge with as many people as you can, including any materials in this packet. Nothing is copyrighted, and duplication is encouraged. If you need any further assistance, please call the Pa. Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities at (717) 238-0172 voice or (717) 238-3433 TTY.

Now most pro se litigants are at a disadvantage in contested litigation. It may be awkward or inappropriate for them to appear both as counsel and as a witness. They're deprived of the judgment of an independent third party in framing the case, in evaluating how to present the evidence and in forming legal arguments and also in making sure that it is reason rather than emotion that steers how the case is conducted. That's why Judges sometimes warn a party who is proceeding pro se of the old saying that anyone who represents himself in court has a fool for a client and an ass for an attorney.
*** 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.
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]
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