We have written another book that can help if you or someone you know has been arrested or accused of a crime and is facing possible criminal charges. It’s called The Criminal Law Handbook: Know Your Rights, Survive the System (Nolo). While that handbook does not recommend self-representation in criminal cases, it can be a tremendous resource at a time you need solid, trustworthy information.
Find out what your jurisdiction does. If they don’t have them, it’s worth it to bring your own. If a hearing means anything to you, the money you shell out for a court reporter will pay back in spades. If it’s difficult to pay for a court reporter, try to stretch those hearings out as long as you can. If you’re in a multi-year case, you might have a hearing only 3 times per year anyway. If you find you’re having more and can’t afford it, prioritize them. This also helps you think strategically about your case.
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.
This book is designed both to increase your overall understanding of the litigation process and to provide detailed advice about each stage of trial. Unless you are already in the midst of trial and need to refer to a particular chapter immediately, begin preparing to represent yourself by reading through the book as a whole. As you become familiar with the litigation process, you will understand the significance of procedures and techniques that may initially seem peculiar or unnecessary.
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.
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.
Aside from her family appellate matters, Christa has also been successful in small claims. In 2017 Christa brought a pro se complaint against an auto body repair shop after it made faulty repairs to her vehicle. The shop hired an aggressive attorney, but Christa successfully pushed the case to a settlement for the full amount of her claim. Although Christa cannot and will not offer legal advice, she genuinely engages with her clients, is always happy to lend a listening ear and to share her own pro se experiences. Christa encourages her customers to educate themselves of the system and the laws which she believes results in an empowered and confident pro se litigant.
United States federal courts created the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system to obtain case and docket information from the United States district courts, United States courts of appeals, and United States bankruptcy courts. The system, managed by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, allows lawyers and self-represented clients to obtain documents entered in the case much faster than regular mail. Several federal courts published general guidelines for pro se litigants and Civil Rights complaint forms.
11. See Donna Stienstra, Jared Bataillon, and Jason A. Cantone, Assistance to Pro Se Litigants in U.S. District Courts: A Report on Surveys of Clerks of Court and Chief Judges *3 (Federal Judicial Center, 2011), archived at http://perma.cc/8TYT-7Y43 (reporting that 90 percent of the US district courts surveyed have adopted at least one procedural reform).
5. If you or your group did anything to inform that particular business owner of his violation, then you might want to make that paragraph 19. It might read like this, "During the summer of 1997, the Louisville CIL visited the business in question, and spoke to the owner. The owner could easily make his business accessible but has chosen not to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act."
Why are the courts so unfriendly to the self-represented? They weren't always that way; in the first 100 years of our history, the courts dealt equally with all comers. But in the late 19th and early 20th century, the courts came to serve the needs and interests of the legal profession, which took control of them and built a monopoly over who can appear before them as advocates.
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.
Pro se means that you are representing yourself in court, without a lawyer. Another term is self-represented litigant. If you represent yourself in a family matter, the court will ask you to attend a Pro Se Education Program. The program helps you understand court procedures and the forms you need to file with the court. Classes are free and open to the public.