In May 2001, EDNY began one of the country’s more dramatic pro se reform programs, elevating a magistrate judge to a newly created pro se office focused entirely on overseeing pro se litigation and assigning her broad responsibilities for overseeing pro se litigation.117 These reforms were implemented with the intent to help “facilitate access to the courts” for pro se litigants.118
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.
Await Defendant's Answer. After being served with the complaint, the defendant will have a prescribed amount of time to file an answer. In California, a defendant usually must file a written response within 30 calendar days of being served. In Federal Court, a defendant only has 20 days. A defendant’s answer will typically include defenses, such as truth or expiration of the statute of limitations.
^ Kay v. Ehrler, 499 U.S. 432, 435 (1991), citing Gonzalez v. Kangas, 814 F. 2d 1411 (9th Cir. 1987); Smith v. DeBartoli, 769 F. 2d 451, 453 (7th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1067 (1986); Turman v. Tuttle, 711 F. 2d 148 (10th Cir. 1983) (per curiam); Owens-El v. Robinson, 694 F. 2d 941 (3d Cir. 1982); Wright v. Crowell, 674 F. 2d 521 (6th Cir. 1982) (per curiam); Cofield v. Atlanta, 648 F. 2d 986, 987-988 (5th Cir. 1981); Lovell v. Snow, 637 F. 2d 170 (1st Cir. 1981); Davis v. Parratt, 608 F. 2d 717 (8th Cir. 1979) (per curiam).
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.
Settle! Of course, given the unique obstacles involved with litigating against a pro se party—including the absence of the important buffer between the party and his or her emotions and, more times than not, unreasonable expectations—the key to trial success may be avoiding trial altogether! To that end, early alternative dispute resolution proceedings can be exceedingly beneficial. A neutral third party can often insert reasonableness otherwise lacking into the pro se party’s view of the strengths and weaknesses of the case.
With 90 percent of Americans facing potential lawsuits at least once in their lives, being prepared can mean the difference between winning and losing. Pick up a copy of “How to Represent Yourself in Court—Winning Big without a Lawyer” and let Gary Zeidwig show you how to best prepare yourself in the event you find yourself in court fighting for your rights. Don’t wait until a lawsuit presents itself. By then, it might be too late.
D. Before trial, the parties may be given an opportunity to meet with a mediator appointed by the Judge to resolve their case. Mediators are volunteers; they try to help parties reach a friendly agreement. They are not judges and do not make decisions. If the dispute is not resolved in mediation, the parties will proceed to a trial, usually on the same day.
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.
The American Bar Association (ABA) has also been involved with issues related to self-representation. 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.
When you interview a potential legal coach, ask about all fees and costs—including the initial interview. It obviously defeats your purpose if you have to spend more to consult a legal coach than you would to hire a lawyer to handle your entire case. Typically, lawyers use hourly, fixed, or contingency fee arrangements. Most likely, someone serving as your legal coach will charge you by the hour.
In General. This and the other pleading forms available from the www.uscourts.gov website illustrate some types of information that are useful to have in complaints and some other pleadings. The forms do not try to cover every type of case. They are limited to types of cases often filed in federal courts by those who represent themselves or who may not have much experience in federal courts.