Though dramatic, these numbers do not necessarily imply that lack of access to counsel worsens case outcomes for pro se litigants. There are a number of plausible explanations for low win rates by pro se litigants even if pro se litigants are not disadvantaged in court. For instance, and likely most significantly, because lawyers frequently work on a contingency fee basis, a lawyer is more likely to agree to work on behalf of a plaintiff with a strong case than a plaintiff with a weak case.84 The stronger the plaintiff’s case, the higher the expected damages and expected payout for the lawyer. Hence, it is less likely that strong cases proceed pro se.
My question is: Can I serve my soon to be ex-wife a Discovery request even though I’m pro se and representing myself? I was served with a request from her attorney after our hearing for temporary alimony and child support and I want to counter act with a request as well. Her attorney is taking full advantage of my pro se circumstances and incompetent knowledge of divorce law as she should. I don’t want this to be an easy win for her when I have evidence that can work in my favor. I just need to find the best way to get it in front of the judge without being bullied in the court room. I don’t know my rights as a pro se litigant and I need as much advice as possible. I picked up her financial affidavit from the clerks office and she’s leaving out a lot of income that needs to be uncovered in my case. The issue is being overwhelmed by all of her attorney deadlines and demands which sidetracks my course of action to respond in my defense appropriately.
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.
Some courts issue orders against self representation in civil cases. A court enjoined a former attorney from suing the new lover of her former attorney. The Superior Court of Bergen New Jersey also issued an order against pro se litigation based on a number of lawsuits that were dismissed and a failure to provide income tax returns in case sanctions might issue. The Superior Court of New Jersey issued an order prohibiting a litigant from filing new lawsuits. The Third Circuit however ruled that a restriction on pro se litigation went too far and that it could not be enforced if a litigant certified that he has new claims that were never before disposed of on the merits. The 10th Circuit ruled that before imposing filing restrictions, a district court must set forth examples of abusive filings and that if the district court did not do so, the filing restrictions must be vacated. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals wrote that "private individuals have 'a constitutional right of access to the courts', that is, the 'right to sue and defend in the courts'."
Federal courts can impose liability for the prevailing party's attorney fees to the losing party if the judge considers the case frivolous or for purpose of harassment, even when the case was voluntarily dismissed. In the case of Fox v. Vice, U.S. Supreme Court held that reasonable attorneys' fees could be awarded to the defendant under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1988, but only for costs that the defendant would not have incurred "but for the frivolous claims." Unless there is an actual trial or judgment, if there is only pre-trial motion practice such as motions to dismiss, attorney fee shifting can only be awarded under FRCP Rule 11 and it requires that the opposing party file a Motion for Sanctions and that the court issue an order identifying the sanctioned conduct and the basis for the sanction. Pro se still has a right to appeal any order for sanctions in the higher court. In the state courts, however, each party is generally responsible only for its own attorney fees, with certain exceptions.
You might expect lawyers who disrespect their professional colleagues to be even more disrespectful of pro se litigants. If an adversary’s lawyer tries to intimidate you, keep your cool. Look to the judge for help, and don’t try to out-bully a bully. Perhaps realizing that most lawyers and bar associations disavow bullying tactics can help you do so.
When lawyers provide substandard representation, unhappy clients can seek relief from state disciplinary authorities and legal malpractice lawsuits. But a pro se litigant’s ability to fix mistakes made by online websites and non-lawyer advisers is much more limited. And the risk of getting inaccurate information may increase when pro se litigants communicate with online businesses in writing, rather than with lawyers in face-to-face meetings.
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).
“One statistic asserts that 90 percent of Americans will face a lawsuit at some point in their lives,” Zeidwig points out. “Yes, it’s possible to represent yourself in court, but you need to know specifically what to do in order to be best prepared. For example, how much time you have to file documents and such is rigid — if you miss the deadline, you’re in serious trouble.”
Can I afford a private child custody attorney? Each parent is aware of his/her own, unique financial position and resources. Some parents borrow money for an attorney, while others may possess significant savings. Divorced parents are often fortunate enough to have legal expenses covered by a former spouse, written directly into a divorce decree. If parents are of modest means, pro se representation might be an appropriate alternative to hiring a private child custody lawyer, but cost should not be the only consideration.
Table 4 suggests that, like the other pro se reforms that Part III considers, the pro se reforms in EDNY have not been effective in improving case outcomes for pro se litigants. The coefficient on the dummy variable indicating whether the EDNY pro se reforms were instituted is -0.59, and the 95 percent confidence interval suggests that there is some nonzero negative effect when no controls are instituted in the first model in column one.128 The results are similar for the second and third models except that, once all districts are controlled for, the negative impact of the reform is statistically significant. When dummies are introduced corresponding to the year of each case filing, this negative effect disappears and the fourth and fifth models indicate no statistically significant impact from the reform. Including the full set of controls for year and district, the 95 percent confidence interval suggests that the reforms in EDNY had an impact of somewhere between -0.43 percent and 0.51 percent on the win rates for pro se litigants, with a statistically insignificant mean estimated impact of 0.04 percent.129 These results suggest that pro se reforms were not effective at improving win rates for pro se litigants.
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.
116. A difference-in-differences analysis is an analysis that looks at two samples (here, EDNY pro se litigant outcomes and non-EDNY pro se litigant outcomes) and compares the difference in the average result between those two groups before and after a treatment. This analysis compares the difference between EDNY and non-EDNY pro se litigant outcomes before the pro se reform with the difference between EDNY and non-EDNY pro se litigant outcomes after the pro se reform. Non-EDNY in this analysis refers to all New York federal district courts other than EDNY: the Northern District of New York, SDNY, and Western District of New York. The treatment effect is the difference between these two differences—that is, the difference in differences. For more discussion of this methodology, see generally Marianne Bertrand, Esther Duflo, and Sendhil Mullainathan, How Much Should We Trust Differences-in-Differences Estimates?, 119 Q J Econ 249 (2004).
The challenges presented by the large volume of pro se cases in federal district courts may require meaningful changes to achieve a full resolution. In order to make headway on that front, reformers must properly contextualize and understand the nature of pro se litigation in those courts and evaluate the successes and failures of efforts that have been undertaken thus far.
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.
53. A factor of 1.19 indicates that a represented litigant is 1.19 times more likely to win than a pro se litigant in the same case. Some of these studies were conducted in different litigation contexts, and there is no a priori reason to believe that access to counsel has a similar impact on all types of litigation, so a large range in win ratios like the one seen here could conceivably be accurate. Still, the gap between a win ratio of 1.19 and 13.79 is sufficiently large to suggest uncertainty in these results. See Rebecca L. Sandefur, The Impact of Counsel: An Analysis of Empirical Evidence, 9 Seattle J Soc Just 51, 70 (2010).
Chicago: Justice for the “Little Guy”?, 72 Nw U L Rev 947 (1978) (discussing deficiencies of pro se small claims courts). See also Margaret Martin Barry, Accessing Justice: Are Pro Se Clinics a Reasonable Response to the Lack of Pro Bono Legal Services and Should Law School Clinics Conduct Them?, 67 Fordham L Rev 1879, 1926 (1999) (describing the pro se system as one that “sacrifices justice for expediency”).
Against this background, it doesn’t normally make sense to interpret your adversary’s offer to “talk settlement” as a sign of weakness. Nor should you be reluctant to be the one to suggest a negotiated settlement. In fact, judges, arbitrators, and mediators routinely urge adversaries to explore settlement even if previous attempts have failed. It’s a wise person who never closes the door to a reasonable settlement.
More generally, win rates are an imperfect outcome variable for evaluating the effectiveness of pro se reform, and some caution is warranted when making inferences based on this analysis. The thorniest issue is that a large portion of civil cases are disposed of in ways that do not typically result in final judgments being entered, so win rates do not directly shed light on how pro se litigants fare in those cases. Some district court reforms might plausibly result in more favorable settlements for pro se litigants, and thus improved outcomes for pro se litigants while not materially affecting the win rates of pro se litigants upon final judgment.97 That said, there is a good theoretical reason to believe that win rates upon final judgment correlate with the favorability of settlements: in typical litigation settings, if both parties have similar beliefs about the probability of winning at trial and make economically rational decisions, they ought to come to a settlement weighted to favor the party more likely to prevail at trial.98 The AO data, however, does not include any measure of settlement quality that could be used to confirm or analyze the relationship for these types of cases.
Use small claims court techniques in bench trials. Most states have revamped court rules and procedures to accommodate non-lawyers very well in one place: their small claims courts. Small claims cases are not simple; many are conceptually difficult. (Lawyers have been willing to accommodate the small claims court system because those cases present little or no potential for fees.)
Proponents and detractors within the civil Gideon debate disagree on how effective civil Gideon would be in improving case outcomes for pro se litigants. One reason for this is that commentators disagree about how effective Gideon itself has been at improving case outcomes for criminal defendants.50 Many of the reasons commonly given for the failure of Gideon, such as the political difficulty of allocating sufficient resources to defense lawyers and the high bar for claiming ineffective assistance of counsel, would likely apply with equal or greater force in the context of civil Gideon.51
Not surprisingly, this disparity in legal knowledge and skill on the part of pro se litigants produces a host of unique problems for the courts and the bar in general and, in particular, for trial counsel. Nevertheless, despite the many challenges they bring to the table, pro se litigants are here to stay, and their numbers are steadily growing. According to the National Center for State Courts, the number of pro se litigants in civil cases continues to rise, and there is every reason to believe this trend will continue. https://www.ncsc.org/. In fact, the number of annual non-prisoner pro se filings each year in federal courts alone tops about 25,000 and constitutes a significant section of the federal caseload. Jefri Wood, Pro Se Case Management for Nonprisoner Civil Litigation (Fed. Judicial Ctr. Sept. 28, 2016).
Some pro se litigants who are federal prisoners are subject to the Prison Litigation Reform Act. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has asserted: ""For over thirteen years, the Prison Litigation Reform Act has denied access to the courts to countless prisoners who have become victims of abuse, creating a system of injustice that denies redress for prisoners alleging serious abuses, barriers that don't apply to anyone else. It is time for Congress to pass legislation to restore the courts as a needed check on prisoner abuse." 54% of judges responding to a Federal Judicial Conference survey use videoconferences for prisoner pro se hearings.:29