“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.”
Accept all complaints, petitions and responses filed, in whatever form, and create user-friendly forms. Among the most obvious of barriers to equal access are rules governing the form of the papers people need to start a lawsuit or defend themselves if they are sued. Complicated pleading rules definitely operate to deny equal access. In fact, a simple plain-English statement of claim (as is used in many small claims courts) or a fill-in-the-blanks, check the boxes type of complaint form used in California courts is all that's needed in most common kinds of cases. Later, the legal and factual issues can be sorted out by a mediator or judge. The Superior Court of Maricopa County has created a number of easy-to-use forms for its Family Court, and by all accounts, people are able to handle them with little help from court personnel.

In the years since this book first appeared, the number of people representing themselves in civil court cases has continued to grow. A recent collection of statistics by the National Center for State Courts shows that the vast majority of family law cases involve at least one, and often two, self-represented parties. In California, over 4.3 million people using the courts are self-represented; in New Hampshire, 85% of civil cases in the trial court involve at least one self-represented party. Many courts report an upsurge in self-representation. (Memorandum on Pro Se Statistics, 9/25/2006, National Center for State Courts, available at www.ncsconline.org/WC/publications/memos/prosestatsmemo.htm.) Other research indicates that at least one party was self-represented in more than two-thirds of domestic relations cases in California and in nearly 90% of divorce cases in Phoenix, Arizona, and Washington, DC. (See Jona Goldschmidt, et al., Meeting the Challenge of Pro Se Litigation: A Report and Guidebook for Judges and Court Managers, A Consumer Based Approach (1998).) These studies are substantiated by many civil court administrators and judges, who estimate that the number of self-represented


Finally, one other potential policy implication suggested by this Comment is that expanded access to counsel for certain pro se litigants may be an attractive option. This Comment does not fully analyze the potential costs or benefits of civil Gideon and accordingly comes to no conclusion about its overall merits.133 However, many commentators have opposed civil Gideon partially on the grounds that pro se reforms at the trial court level could be a cheaper, but still effective, alternative.134 The Supreme Court has suggested a similar belief.135 But while not totally conclusive for the reasons described above, this Comment indicates that those reforms have not had the kind of impact on case outcomes that increased access to counsel might have. Because these reforms do not yet appear to be a viable and effective alternative to civil Gideon, this Comment suggests that improved case outcomes may be better achieved through expanded access to counsel than through pro se reforms.

This is truly one of the worst books I have ever read. If he were alive, either Melville or I would be the target of a well-placed bullet. Irretrievably romantic, psychological, depressing and completely impractical, this work is beyond believability. So much is described in a tortuous introspection which, in reality, NO ONE ever contemplates before acting. A mysticism accompanies every motivation. He manufactures conflicts that, in a normal world, would never exist. An ...more


Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. His first two books gained much attention, though they were not bestsellers, and his popularity declined precipitously only a few years later. By the time of his death he had been almost completely forgotten, but his longest novel, Moby-Dick — largely considered a failure d ...more
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.
For instance, assume that you want to ask for a jury trial and that your local rule requires a jury trial request to be made 30 days after the initial pleadings are filed. If you miss that deadline, you will not have a jury trial unless you go through a laborious process to request an extension of time to file your demand and the judge is willing to make an exception (but don’t count on it!).
Pro Se is a newsletter published bi-monthly by Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York for incarcerated individuals in New York State prisons. Pro Se provides information and analysis on recent developments in the law. Pro Se advises people in prison of changes in the law, provides practice pieces to assist them in complying with statutory and regulatory requirements, and explains technical aspects of various laws affecting prisoners. Pro Se is sent free of charge to individuals incarcerated in New York State who request to be placed on our mailing list.

Finally, one other potential policy implication suggested by this Comment is that expanded access to counsel for certain pro se litigants may be an attractive option. This Comment does not fully analyze the potential costs or benefits of civil Gideon and accordingly comes to no conclusion about its overall merits.133 However, many commentators have opposed civil Gideon partially on the grounds that pro se reforms at the trial court level could be a cheaper, but still effective, alternative.134 The Supreme Court has suggested a similar belief.135 But while not totally conclusive for the reasons described above, this Comment indicates that those reforms have not had the kind of impact on case outcomes that increased access to counsel might have. Because these reforms do not yet appear to be a viable and effective alternative to civil Gideon, this Comment suggests that improved case outcomes may be better achieved through expanded access to counsel than through pro se reforms.

Although it's a little cheesy, having an alter ego of sorts is a very helpful way to boost self-confidence. If we pretend like we're someone else--strong, willful, self-confident--we never have to subject ourselves to the fear of our personal worth not being enough for others. We should not necessarily lie about who we are, or invent false facts, but instead find another mode of existence in which we may tap into to be comfortable in our own skin.


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.

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