This book can guide you through nearly every kind of trial in every court system (state or federal) because the litigation process is remarkably uniform throughout all of them. In part, this is because federal courts and most state courts share a “common law” heritage—a way of trying cases that came over from England and developed along with the country. And, in part, it is because many local procedures are consistent with national legal codes (sets of rules and regulations).
[p]ro se litigation is difficult for us to handle at least in part because it doesn’t fit into the neat box of our traditional system of litigation, the adversarial method of resolving disputes. That system assumes that the parties know the law, are adept at procedure and the rules of evidence, and can marshal significant facts, present their side of the case to the factfinder thoroughly and lance the arguments of the opponent. But pro se litigants are capable of little if any of that.
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.
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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.
Table 2D shows the most common types of litigation in federal district courts and the frequency with which each type of case involves a pro se plaintiff or defendant. Pro se plaintiffs bring a disproportionately large percent of civil rights and employment discrimination cases. In contrast, pro se plaintiffs rarely bring other types of cases, such as products liability, contract, asbestos, and insurance cases.86 Table 2D also shows that the only types of cases that frequently involve pro se defendants are property cases, which are primarily foreclosure proceedings.87 Perhaps the most important takeaway from Table 2D is that a substantial proportion of many types of cases are brought by pro se plaintiffs. Though there is significant variance—pro se litigants bring 32 percent of civil rights cases but bring a more modest 8 percent of cases involving the government and 2 percent of insurance and product liability cases—pro se litigants are prevalent across many types of cases. Any reforms targeting just one type of lawsuit cannot fully address the scope of issues faced by pro se litigants.
Unfortunately, the ideal of the multi-door courthouse is at odds with how courts traditionally operate: to support and enhance the lawyer business by making it extremely difficult to get through court without a lawyer. As long as courts are institutionally biased against creating a level playing field for the self-represented, it will make no difference how many doors a court has.
We strongly recommend that you prepare a trial notebook. A trial notebook is a series of outlines covering matters such as what you must prove (or, if you are a defendant, disprove); the evidence you will use to prove (or disprove) those matters; the topics you intend to cover on direct and cross-examination; a list of the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of your witnesses; and the exhibits you plan to introduce into evidence. The notebook serves as your courtroom manager. You can refer to it to make sure that you do not overlook evidence you planned to offer or an argument you intended to make.
85. Although it’s difficult to pinpoint the factors most responsible for the unfavorable outcomes for many or most pro se litigants, some issues that many district judges cite in explaining the typical challenges of pro se litigants include: pro se plaintiffs’ lack of ability to write legally comprehensible pleadings or submissions, lack of ability to respond to legal motions in fruitful ways, lack of knowledge about relevant legal precedents, issues with timeliness in the legal process, and failure to understand the legal consequences of their actions. For a more complete list of issues that judges perceive pro se litigants face, see Stienstra, Bataillon, and Cantone, Assistance to Pro Se Litigants in U.S. District Courts at *21–23 (cited in note 11).
There are also freely accessible web search engines to assist pro se in finding court decisions that can be cited as an example or analogy to resolve similar questions of law. Google Scholar is the biggest database of full text state and federal courts decisions that can be accessed without charge. These web search engines often allow pro se to select specific state courts to search.
Filing of complaints, appearance, issuance of summonses, and procedures for collection, garnishments, citations, attachments, and the like, require the parties to pay fees and/or other "court cost". The Judge will generally order the party who loses to pay the "court costs". The defendant may have to pay plaintiff interest on the unpaid judgment at the statutory rate.
109. It is worth noting that these reforms could produce unobservable benefits in a number of ways. For example, as discussed previously, some district courts may be implementing these reforms differently in practice, and it may be the case that a few are successfully implementing the reforms, resulting in significant improvements to case outcomes for those courts but not enough improvement to show up in the overall numbers. Alternately, it may be the case that one particular combination of reforms is especially impactful. There is not enough data to fruitfully study all permutations of reforms. Still, this analysis is revealing with respect to the cumulative effects of these reforms.
James Traficant, the colorful congressman from Ohio, defended himself twice. The first time was on bribery charges during his time as a local sheriff in the early 80s. He succeeded with a daring argument that his bribe-taking was really part of a corruption investigation that he himself was running. The second time didn't work out so well. He was convicted of some impropriety with campaign funds, got kicked out of the House, and went to prison for several years.
Do I have a basic understanding of the required court documents? Mounds of documents can be very intimidating to a lot of people, legal officials included. Parents considering pro se representation should become familiar with various types of family law documents. Again, become friendly with the court clerk and ask for his or her help identifying the correct forms, where to get them, when they are due, and how they should be submitted.
Many states have amended their court procedures to make litigation less of a challenge for self-represented parties. For example, the New York State Courts’ “eTrack System” allows civil litigants to file court papers electronically, sign up for free reminders about court appearances, and receive e-mail notifications whenever a court updates their case file. New York has also established a website that contains information about legal procedures, a glossary and court forms. Visit www.nycourthelp.gov.
Accordingly, this Comment suggests that pro se trial court reform is not the silver bullet that some commentators have hoped for in the quest to remedy the shortcomings of the pro se litigation process. In order to meaningfully improve case outcomes for pro se litigants, the legal community will either need to implement different and potentially more dramatic reforms than those implemented thus far or consider another approach altogether, such as renewed advocacy for “civil Gideon.”12 Alternatively, it is also possible that there is no cost-effective way to improve case outcomes for civil pro se litigants in the context of the modern US legal system. This Comment does not analyze the merits of these options. Instead, it strongly suggests that a different solution is needed to ensure pro se litigants get a full and equal opportunity to have their claims redressed via litigation.
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.
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).
After conducting an empirical study of pro se felony defendants, I conclude that these defendants are not necessarily either ill-served by the decision to represent themselves or mentally ill. ... In state court, pro se defendants charged with felonies fared as well as, and arguably significantly better than, their represented counterparts ... of the 234 pro se defendants for whom an outcome was provided, just under 50 percent of them were convicted on any charge. ... for represented state court defendants, by contrast, a total of 75 percent were convicted of some charge. ... Only 26 percent of the pro se defendants ended up with felony convictions, while 63 percent of their represented counterparts were convicted of felonies ... in federal court ... the acquittal rate for pro se defendants is virtually identical to the acquittal rate for represented defendants.